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IAEA SMR Platform Event Showcases Tools to Assess Reactor Technologies for National Needs


Image: Payal Yadav/IAEA

Adapting to the fast-expanding possibilities of small modular reactors (SMRs), the IAEA has created a set of tools to help countries assess reactor designs to choose the right model to meet their national needs. The tools are particularly aimed at newcomer countries looking to add nuclear power to their energy mix. Exactly what these tools do and how they can be used was showcased at a side event during the IAEA General Conference in Vienna today.

Choosing a reactor technology is a complex endeavour. Everything from site selection and performance requirements to economics and waste management must be considered. And keeping track of possible SMR choices is perhaps even more challenging, with over 80 designs under development or deployment around the world. The Agency-wide Platform on SMRs and their Applications, established in 2021, provides coordinated support for countries interested in SMRs, including technology development, deployment and oversight.

“It’s an exciting time for nuclear energy, with so many different SMR options coming in different shapes and sizes, and catering to different needs—both electrical and non-electrical,” said Dohee Hahn, the SMR Platform Coordinator. “But it may also seem a bit mind-boggling trying to make a choice.”

To make that choice easier, the revised IAEA Reactor Technology Assessment (RTA) and new associated tools were developed and launched last year, alongside a newly updated “Nuclear Reactor Technology Assessment for Near Term Deployment.”

Around 30 countries are currently considering, planning or actively working to include nuclear in their energy mix as a way to achieve climate goals and further sustainable development. The RTA supports the IAEA’s Milestones Approach – a three-phase approach providing advice and capacity building to enable countries to develop a national infrastructure for a nuclear power programme.

“The new revised RTA methodology is technology neutral and includes assessment of non-electrical applications of nuclear installations,” said Tatjana Jevremovic, who led the project and is Team Leader for Water Cooled Reactor Technology Development at the IAEA. “It provides a comprehensive yet systematic approach in assessing the technical merits of various nuclear power plant technologies available on the market or expected to be commercialized in the near future.”

Used in conjunction with the IAEA’s Advanced Reactor Information System (ARIS) database, RTA can assess the suitability of various SMR designs for a country’s nuclear programme and their compatibility with site and infrastructure capabilities.

During the side event, participants were given a walkthrough of the RTA tools which include an eLearning module that is freely available online and a user-friendly IT-Toolkit. Ghana provided a real-life example of using the RTA methodology, the related tools and the ARIS database. For the country’s 30 million people, electricity is currently unreliable and comparatively expensive. The government plans to introduce nuclear power to help produce affordable power for all its residents. Ultimately, Ghana seeks to become a major exporter of electricity in West Africa.

Stella Ntiwaah, a nuclear engineer at Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission, said RTA trainings and access to the relevant tools have helped the country assess which SMR technology might best fit its energy portfolio. “The revised RTA methodology is straightforward, clear and user friendly, accompanied with detailed packages and a web-based RTA IT-Toolkit with a modern graphic user interface,” she said.

The IAEA’s RTA methodology courses provide hands-on training including practical exercises. The next RTA training course for SMRs will take place in Brazil in November 2023.

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