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IAEA Launches Technical Working Group on Small, Medium Sized or Modular Nuclear Reactors

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NuScale Power's main small modular reactor simulator control room, used to develop plant operating procedures and train staff. (Image: Energy Northwest)

The IAEA’s new Technical Working Group on small and medium sized or modular reactors (SMRs) held its first meeting with 34 experts from 14 Member States and 2 international organizations.

With some 50 SMR concepts at various stages of development around the world, global interest in SMRs is growing. They have the potential to meet the needs of a wide range of users and to be an additional low carbon replacement option for ageing fossil fuel fired power plants. They also display enhanced safety features and are suitable for non-electric applications, such as heating and water desalination. These reactors have advanced engineered features, deployable either as a single or multi-module plant, and are designed to be built in factories and shipped to utilities for installation as demand arises.

“This initiative is the natural evolution of a decade-long effort on SMRs,” said Marco Ricotti, Chairman of the working group that met in Vienna from 23 to 26 April. “Members will provide recommendations to the Agency for developing and evaluating programmes to support Member States, including both technology developers and embarking countries.”

The first meeting of the IAEA’s Technical Working Group on small and medium sized or modular reactors attracted 34 experts from 14 Member States and 2 international organizations, Vienna, April 2018. (Photo: S.Krikorian/IAEA) 

Assembling a global network of experts, the working group is providing guidance to the IAEA on addressing the challenges associated with the readiness of the technology to be deployed in the near future. Experts discussed the evaluation of local infrastructure and supplier capabilities, with a recommendation that a consultancy meeting be held in 2018, to develop the first draft of generic SMR user requirements for countries which are not technology developers.

The working group aims to develop synergies with other IAEA programmes and support the two ongoing coordinated research projects on advanced passive safety system reliability and emergency planning zone sizing criteria. 

SMRs do face some challenges, including a need for countries to develop a resilient supply chain and robust regulatory framework based on the IAEA safety standards.

“Despite such challenges, we can expect the first commercial SMR fleet to start between 2025 and 2030,” said Hadid Subki, Scientific Secretary of the working group and a Team Leader in SMR Technology Development at the IAEA.

“The IAEA is gauging both the progress and challenges being encountered by Member States, and hopes to further spur both the development and deployment of SMR technology.”

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