2024년 6월 13일 목요일

Rising Interest in SMRs (Small Modular Reactors)

 Interest in SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) has significantly increased recently. SMRs are small reactors with a power output and size reduced to about 1/5 of conventional nuclear power plants, offering a mix of advantages and challenges.



Advantages of SMRs:

  1. Small Size: Due to their compact size, SMRs can be built on smaller sites and can replace existing coal-fired power plants, alleviating site concerns.
  2. Short Construction Time: Most parts are manufactured in factories and only need to be installed on-site, reducing construction time.
  3. Integrated Design: Being integrated systems, they have fewer issues related to piping and other components.
  4. Natural Circulation Cooling: SMRs can utilize natural circulation for cooling, reducing the risk of overheating even if the power supply is cut off. The cooling water circulates only within the reactor pressure vessel, mitigating concerns about coolant depletion.
  5. Versatile Cooling Concepts: There are concepts for submerging reactors to address cooling without using additional water, allowing for construction in regions without access to large water bodies.
  6. Security: SMRs can be designed as sealed units, enhancing security against potential terrorist attacks.
  7. Modular Configuration: Ten SMRs can be combined modularly to flexibly adjust output, which is advantageous for balancing the variability of renewable energy sources.


South Korea's Early Start:

South Korea began SMR research in 1997 and quickly got a head start. Currently, South Korean companies are collaborating with U.S. firms to enter the market. SK and SK Innovation have invested $250 million in TerraPower, a U.S. SMR company. Hyundai Construction is working with Holtec to build SMRs to help rebuild Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Doosan Enerbility and NuScale Power are constructing six 77MW reactors in Romania.

Challenges of SMRs:

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: Currently, SMRs require twice the construction cost and nearly double the operational cost compared to large reactors to achieve the same power output. Companies must reduce costs through standardization and mass production to be successful.



Recent Developments:

On June 10, 2024, Bill Gates' TerraPower began construction of a small modular reactor in Wyoming. The project faced delays due to additional safety and environmental report requirements, but initial construction, which does not involve nuclear facilities, has commenced. TerraPower aims to complete the plant by 2030, providing power to 250,000 households. Wyoming, traditionally reliant on coal power, opted for SMRs due to its high altitude and low sunlight, which reduce solar power efficiency. This project benefits from $2 billion in subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

China is also accelerating its SMR development, constructing the "Linglong One" with commercial operations targeted for 2026. In contrast, the U.S. heavily depends on imported uranium, particularly from Russia, due to cost advantages. However, TerraPower, in collaboration with Centrus Energy, plans to produce its own HALEU to reduce dependence on Russian uranium.



Collaborations and Future Prospects:

Bill Gates is deeply committed to SMRs. TerraPower, backed by investments from SK Group and HD Hyundai, is conducting joint research on SMRs and is planning to construct two SMRs at a coal power plant site in Utah owned by Pacificorp by 2033. Korean companies are also participating in construction. Globally, over 70 types of SMRs are under development. South Korea, which started its development in 1997, received the world's first standard design approval in 2012.

While the cost-effectiveness of SMRs still lags behind large reactors, IRA subsidies make the current projects viable. However, reliance on subsidies limits growth potential. TerraPower and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) have an order for five SMRs with U.S. utility Pacificorp by 2033, a company owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, indicating strong backing for the SMR industry. With the combined efforts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the future of SMRs looks promising.


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