IAEA Platform on SMRs and their Applications: GC Event Examines Progress and Outlook

One year after the launch of the IAEA Platform on Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and their Applications, experts from the IAEA and around the world came together at an event during the 66th IAEA General Conference to assess its achievements and outlook in supporting SMR development, deployment, licensing and oversight worldwide.

The event today included an overview of the latest updates on the platform, as well as presentations on the IAEA’s Medium Term Strategy for SMRs and on the related Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative. The event also showcased IAEA SMR support to Brazil and Jordan and the platform’s new online portal, as well as two new IAEA publications: Small Modular Reactors: A New Nuclear Energy Paradigm and the latest edition of Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments.

“SMRs are perhaps the most exciting and most watched emerging technology in nuclear power today,” Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy told event participants. “Member States from Africa and the Americas to Asia and Europe are developing or interested in deploying SMRs, and in a variety of ways, the IAEA Platform on SMRs and their electric and non-electric applications is helping them to do this effectively, safely and securely.”

With more than 80 SMR designs under development in 19 countries and the first SMR units already in operation in China and Russia, SMRs including microreactors (MRs) are expected to play an increasingly important role in helping to ensure energy security as well as supporting the transition to net zero emissions, thus providing unique potential to address some of our most pressing challenges, from climate change to sustainable development. While the technology’s safety and economic competitiveness must be fully demonstrated before SMRs can be more widely deployed, the SMR Platform has developed a medium term strategy aimed at providing support to governments, operators, industry and regulators to address these and related challenges.

Brazil, for example, requested support from the SMR Platform last year in analysing “the economic aspects of SMRs […] and their cost within our system,” said Celso Cunha, President of the Brazilian Association for the Development of Nuclear Activities (ABDAN), at the event. The IAEA then took part in a three-day course on SMRs organized by ABDAN. Several other related activities are planned including participation in the IAEA’s Coordinated Research Project focused on the economic aspects of SMRs and in the IAEA Technical Working Group on SMRs (TWG-SMR).

“Jordan opted for SMR’s in 2017,” said Khaled Turan, Chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, in part because finding sufficient water resources to cool a conventional nuclear power plant in the dry and landlocked nation was proving challenging. Jordan is now working with the SMR Platform on consolidating the economic case for using SMRs for water desalination. “The numbers are promising,” said Turan, “but we need to check them with potential vendors and have asked for a neutral review of the data by IAEA.”

A reactor module, one of the many SMR designes currently being developed, on a truck. Many such modular reactors are designed to be small enough to transport by truck or shipping container. (Illustration: Rolls Royce)

The two publications unveiled at the event will also provide countries with additional tools.

Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments, a supplement to the IAEA’s Advanced Reactors Information System (ARIS), can help countries to identify reactor designs that suit their needs as they look for reliable and affordable energy sources to slash greenhouse gas emissions and drive sustainable development. It provides the latest data and information on SMRs from around the world, including detailed descriptions of almost all SMRs under development or construction worldwide.

Meanwhile, the new booklet Small Modular Reactors: A New Nuclear Energy Paradigm, “is another example of how the platform is delivering support for Member States,” said Stefano Monti, Chair of the Platform Implementation Committee and Head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Power Technology Development Section. “It addresses the needs of policy makers and relevant stakeholders, covering not only SMR technology and applications but the entire full cycle, including infrastructure and economics.”

Also discussed at the event was the IAEA’s new Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI), which aims to facilitate the effective deployment of safe and secure advanced nuclear reactors, with a particular focus on SMRs through two separate but complementary tracks, one for regulators and one for technology holders.

“The activities pertaining to the safety and security of SMRs are a priority for the Agency,” said Anna Bradford, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Installation Safety. “Particularly, our focus is to ensure that the important innovations introduced by SMRs are fully considered and consistent with current safety, security and regulatory approaches. These activities are well coordinated with all other important aspects of the work of the Agency considered as part of the SMR platform.”

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