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IAEA Showcases Global Coordination on Small, Medium Sized or Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

Vienna, Austria

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) expanding international coordination on the safe and secure development and deployment of small, medium sized or modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) has come into focus with new publications and expert meetings on these emerging technologies.

Significant advances have been made in recent years on SMRs, some of which will use pre-fabricated systems and components to shorten construction schedules and offer greater flexibility and affordability than traditional nuclear power plants. Some 50 SMR concepts are at various stages of development around the world, with commercial operations expected to begin in the coming years.

Following an IAEA meeting in September on SMR design and technology, energy experts from around Europe gathered at the Agency’s Vienna headquarters for a workshop earlier this month to discuss infrastructure, economic and finance aspects of SMRs. The meetings are part of an ongoing SMR project involving the IAEA Departments of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Safety and Security and Technical Cooperation. In addition, representatives of regulatory authorities and other stakeholders also met this month at the IAEA’s SMR Regulators’ Forum, which exchanges experiences on SMR regulatory reviews.

“Many IAEA Member States are interested in the development and deployment of SMRs as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “The IAEA’s flurry of recent activities on SMRs is part of our efforts to respond to Member State requests for assistance on this exciting emerging technology.”

The IAEA recently released two new publications on SMRs: Deployment Indicators for Small Modular Reactors, which provides Member States with a methodology for evaluating the potential deployment of SMRs in their national energy systems; and an updated edition of Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments, which provides a concise overview of the latest status of SMR designs around the world and is intended as a supplement to the IAEA’s Advanced Reactor Information System (ARIS).

SMRs have the potential to meet the needs of a wide range of users and to be low carbon replacements for ageing fossil fuel fired power plants. They display enhanced safety features and are suitable for non-electric applications, such as cooling, heating and water desalination. SMRs also offer options for countries with smaller electricity grids as well as regions with less developed infrastructure and for energy systems that combine nuclear and alternative sources, including renewables.

SMRs require less upfront capital per unit, but their electricity generating cost will probably be higher than that of large reactors. Their costs will be weighed against alternatives and competitiveness will need to be pursued through economies of scale. An expeditious deployment of SMRs will involve the development of a resilient supply chain, human resources and a robust regulatory framework.

“There are safety and security considerations that have to be taken into account at all stages of the development and implementation of SMR projects,” IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Safety and Security. “The IAEA safety standards and security guidance provide a framework that can support in this regard.”

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