Small modular reactor

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear fission reactors that are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors and typically have an electrical power output of less than 300 MWe or a thermal power output of less than 1000 MWth.

Illustration of a light water small modular nuclear reactor (SMR)

They are designed to be manufactured at a plant and transported to a site to be installed. Modular reactors will reduce on-site construction and increase containment efficiency and are claimed to enhance safety. The greater safety should come via the use of passive safety features that operate without human intervention, a concept already implemented in some conventional nuclear reactor types. SMRs also reduce staffing versus conventional nuclear reactors.[1][2] SMRs are claimed to cross financial and safety barriers that inhibit the construction of conventional reactors.[2][3]

The term SMR refers to the size, capacity and modular construction only, not to the reactor type and the nuclear process which is applied. Designs range from scaled down versions of existing designs to generation IV designs. Both thermal-neutron reactors and fast-neutron reactors have been proposed, along with molten salt and gas cooled reactor models.[4]

While there are dozens of modular reactor designs and yet unfinished demonstration projects, the floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov, operating in Pevek in Russia's Far East, was as of May 2020 the first and only operating prototype in the world. The concept is based on the design of nuclear icebreakers. The construction of the world's first commercial land-based SMR started in July 2021 with the Chinese power plant Linglong One. The operation of this prototype is due to start by the end of 2026.

SMRs differ in terms of staffing, security and deployment time.[5] US government studies to evaluate SMR-associated risks have slowed licensing.[6][7][8] One concern with SMRs is preventing nuclear proliferation.[9][10]


In the past, nuclear reactors tended to become larger, in view of economic scale advantages. Nuclear disasters, in particular the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster caused a major set-back for the nuclear industry, with worldwide suspension of development, cutting down of funding and closure of reactor plants.

In response, a new strategy was introduced aiming at building smaller reactors, faster to realize, more safely and at lower costs for a single reactor. Despite the loss of scale advantages and considerably less power output, funding was expected to be easier thanks to the introduction of modular construction and projects with expected shorter timescales.

Proponents claim that SMRs are less expensive due to the use of standardized modules that can be produced off-site.[11] SMRs do, however, also have some economic disadvantages.[12] Several studies suggest that the overall costs of SMRs are comparable with those of conventional large reactors. Moreover, extremely limited information about SMR modules transportation has been published.[13] Critics say that modular building will only be cost-effective at high quantities of the same types, given the still remaining high costs for each SMR. A high market share is needed to obtain sufficient orders.

Proponents say that nuclear energy with proven technology is safe and the nuclear industry contends that the smaller size will make SMRs even safer. Critics say that more small reactors pose a higher risk. More transports of nuclear fuel and waste will be needed. SMRs require new designs with new technology, the safety of which has to be proved.

Until 2020, no truly modular SMRs had been built.[14] Only in May 2020 the first prototype of a floating nuclear power plant with two 30 MWe reactors type KLT-40 started operation in Pevek, Russia.[15] This concept is based on the design of nuclear icebreakers.[16] The operation of the first commercial land-based, 125 MWe demonstration reactor ACP100 (Linglong One) is due to start in China by the end of 2026.[17]

General aspectsEdit


Once the first unit of a given design is licensed, licensing subsequent units should be drastically simpler, given that all units operate in the same way.


A given power station can begin with a single module and expand by adding modules as demand grows. This reduces startup costs associated with conventional designs.[18]

SMRs have a load-following design so that when electricity demands are low they can produce less electricity.


SMR reactors will require much less land, e.g., the 470 MWe 3-loop Rolls-Royce SMR reactor takes 40,000 m2 (430,000 sq ft), 10% of that needed for a traditional plant.[19] This unit is too large to meet the definition of a small modular reactor and will require more on-site construction which calls into question the claimed benefits of SMRs. The firm is targeting a 500-day construction time.[20]

Electricity needs in remote locations are usually small and variable, making them suitable for a smaller plant.[21] The smaller size may also reduce the need for a grid to distribute their output.

Flexibility of SMREdit

SMRs offer significant advantages over conventional style nuclear reactors due to the flexibility of their modular design. Flexibility in the capabilities of SMRs offers advantages, incremental load capacity, ability for adaptation to current nuclear powerplant sites, utilization for industrial applications, improved operating time, and finally the ability to be “grid independent”.[22]


Containment is more efficient, and proliferation concerns are much less.[23] For example, a pressure release valve may have a spring that can respond to increasing pressure to increase coolant flow. Inherent safety features require no moving parts to work, depending only on physical laws.[24] Another example is a plug at the bottom of a reactor that melts away when temperatures are too high, allowing the reactor fuel to drain out of the reactor and lose critical mass.

A report by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) considering 136 different historical and current reactors and SMR concepts, found that compared to high-output nuclear power plants, individual SMRs could potentially achieve safety advantages, as they have a lower radioactive inventory per reactor. However, the high number of reactors required for the same production amount of electrical power increases the overall risk many times over. The report also argues that contrary to what is sometimes stated by manufacturers, it must be assumed that in the event of a serious accident, the radioactive contamination will extend well beyond the plant premises.[25][26][12]


Many SMRs are designed to use unconventional fuels that allow for higher burnup and longer fuel cycles.[3] Longer refueling intervals can decrease proliferation risks and lower chances of radiation escaping containment. For reactors in remote areas, accessibility can be troublesome, so longer fuel life can be helpful.


A nuclear fission chain is required to generate nuclear power.

SMRs are envisioned in multiple designs. Some are simplified versions of current reactors, others involve entirely new technologies.[27] All proposed SMRs use nuclear fission with designs including thermal-neutron reactors and fast-neutron reactors.

Thermal-neutron reactorsEdit

Thermal-neutron reactors rely on a moderator to slow neutrons and generally use 235
as fissile material. Most conventional operating reactors are of this type.

Fast reactorsEdit

Fast reactors don't use moderators. Instead they rely on the fuel to absorb higher speed neutrons. This usually means changing the fuel arrangement within the core, or using different fuels. E.g., 239
is more likely to absorb a high-speed neutron than 235

Fast reactors can be breeder reactors. These reactors release enough neutrons to transmute non-fissionable elements into fissionable ones. A common use for a breeder reactor is to surround the core in a "blanket" of 238
, the most easily found isotope. Once the 238
undergoes a neutron absorption reaction, it becomes 239
, which can be removed from the reactor during refueling, and subsequently used as fuel.[28]



Conventional reactors use water as a coolant.[29] SMRs may use water, liquid metal, gas and molten salt as coolants.[30][31] Coolant type is determined based on the reactor type, reactor design, and the chosen application. Large-rated reactors primarily use light water as coolant, allowing for this cooling method to be easily applied to SMRs. Helium is often elected as a gas coolant for SMRs because it yields a high plant thermal efficiency and supplies a sufficient amount of reactor heat. Sodium, lead, and lead-bismuth are common liquid metal coolants of choice for SMRs. There was a large focus on sodium during early work on large-rated reactors which has since carried over to SMRs to be a prominent choice as a liquid metal coolant.[32] SMRs have lower cooling water requirements, which expands the number of places a SMR could be built to include remote areas such as mining and desalination.[33]

Thermal/electrical generationEdit

Some gas-cooled reactor designs drive a gas-powered turbine, rather than boil water. Thermal energy can be used directly, without conversion. Heat can be used in hydrogen production and other commercial operations,[30] such as desalination and the production of petroleum products (extracting oil from tar sands, creating synthetic oil from coal, etc.).[34]

Load followingEdit

SMR designs can provide base load power or can adjust their output based on demand.[citation needed] Another approach is to adopt cogeneration, maintaining consistent output, while diverting otherwise unneeded power to an auxiliary use.[which?]

District heating, desalination and hydrogen production have been proposed as cogeneration options.[35] Overnight desalination requires sufficient freshwater storage to enable water to be delivered at times other than when it is produced.[36] Membrane and thermal are the two principal categories of desalination technology. The membrane desalination process uses only electricity and is employed the most out of the two technologies. In the thermal process, the feed water stream is evaporated in different stages with continuous decreases in pressure between the stages. The thermal process primarily uses thermal energy and does not include the intermediate conversion of thermal power to electricity. Thermal desalination technology is further divided into two principal technologies: the Multi Stage Flash distillation (MSF) and the Multi Effect Desalination (MED).[37]


Many SMR designs are fast reactors that have higher fuel burnup, reducing the amount of waste. At higher neutron energy more fission products can usually be tolerated. Breeder reactors "burn" 235
, but convert fertile materials such as 238
into usable fuels.[28]

Some reactors are designed to run on the thorium fuel cycle, which offers significantly reduced long-term waste radiotoxicity compared to the uranium cycle.[38]

The traveling wave reactor immediately uses fuel that it breeds without requiring the fuel's removal and cleaning.[39]

A report by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management found that extensive interim storage and fuel transports would still be required for SMRs. A repository would still be required in any case.[12]


Coolant systems can use natural circulation – convection – to eliminate pumps that could break down. Convection can keep removing decay heat after reactor shutdown.

Negative temperature coefficients in the moderators and the fuels keep the fission reactions under control, causing the reaction to slow as temperature increases.[40]

Some SMRs may need an active cooling system to back up the passive system, increasing cost.[41] Additionally, SMR designs have less need for containment structures.[7]

Some SMR designs bury the reactor and spent-fuel storage pools underground.

Smaller reactors would be easier to upgrade.[42]

SMRs maintain core cooling with a passive safety system which eliminates the need for pressure injection systems. With a passive safety system, emergency AC power sourced from a diesel generator is not required for core cooling. A passive safety system is simpler, requires less testing, and does not lead to inadvertent initiation. SMRs do not require an active containment heat system due to passive heat rejection out of containment and a containment spray system is not required. An emergency feedwater system in not necessary for SMRs, allowing for core heat removal and enhancing safety.[43]

SMRs featuring water and sodium coolants increase reactor safety through their ability to withhold byproducts of the fissile fuel introduced into the coolants during a sever accident. This characteristic of a SMR allows for the ability of a SMR to mitigate the release of fissile material, contaminating the environment, in the event of a failure to maintain containment of nuclear material occurred.[32]

Some SMR designs feature an integral design of which the primary reactor core, steam generator and the pressurizer are integrated within the sealed reactor vessel. This integrated design allows for the reduction of a possible accident as radiation leaks can easily be contained. In comparison to larger reactors having numerous components outside the reactor vessel, this feature drastically increases the safety by decreasing the chance of an uncontained accident. Furthermore, this feature allows many SMR designs bury the reactor and spent-fuel storage pools underground at the end of their service life therefore increasing the safety of waste disposal.[22]

Flexibility of SMREdit

Small Nuclear Reactors in comparison to conventional nuclear power generation plants offer many notable technological advancements due to the flexibility of their modular construction.[22] This flexibility in the modularity of a SMR system allows for additional units to be incrementally added in the event load on the grid increases. Additionally, this flexibility in a standardized SMRs design revolving around modularity allows for rapid production at a decreasing cost following the completion of the first reactor on site.[22][44]

The flexibility and modularity of SMR allows this form of power generation to be installed at existing powerplants; therefore, allowing for SMRs to supply additional energy to the aging grid of fossil fuel power plants with an easy adaptation to the existing grid structure. Modularity of a SMR plant allows for “a single site can have three or four SMRs, allowing one to go off-line for refueling while the other reactors stay online”.[22]

The flexibility of SMRs provides additional opportunities for industrial usage through saving energy lost through the transfer of energy from thermal to electrical. Applications for a SMR under these conditions of direct energy transfer include “desalination, industrial processes, hydrogen production, oil shale recovery, and district heating” of which a conventional large reactor is not capable.[22][45]


A key driver of interest in SMRs is the claimed economies of scale in production as they can be manufactured in an offsite factory. Some studies instead find the capital cost of SMRs to be equivalent to larger reactors.[46] Substantial capital is needed to construct the factory. Amortizing that cost requires significant volume, estimated to be 40–70 units.[47]

Compared to the total cost of offshore wind, solar thermal, biomass, and solar photovoltaic electricity generation plants, the total cost of using SMRs for electricity generation is significantly lower.[43]

When comparing SMRs with Large Reactors, however, the unique characteristics of SMRs that should compensate for the lack of the economy of scale should also be considered, although no SMR design presents all of them. Given the lower capacity, these characteristics will increase the demand for construction sites to obtain the same power of a Large Reactor, but will in itself not increase the demand for nuclear power plants.[14] Financial and economic issues can hinder SMR construction.[48]

Construction costs per SMR reactor are claimed to be less than that for a conventional nuclear plant, while exploitation costs may be higher for SMRs due to low scale economics and the higher number of reactors. Staffing costs per unit output increase as reactor size decreases, due to fixed costs. SMR staff costs per unit output can be as much as 190% higher than the fixed operating cost of large reactors.[49] Modular building is a very complex process and there is "extremely limited information about SMR modules transportation", according to a 2019 report.[13]

A production cost calculation done by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE), taking into account economies of scale and learning effects from the nuclear industry, suggests that an average of 3,000 SMR would have to be produced before SMR production would be worthwhile. This is because the construction costs of SMRs are relatively higher than those of large nuclear power plants due to the low electrical output.[50]

In 2017 an Energy Innovation Reform Project study of eight companies looked at reactor designs with capacity between 47.5 MWe and 1,648 MWe.[51] The study reported average capital cost of $3,782/kW, average operating cost total of $21/MWh and levelized cost of electricity of $60/MWh.

Energy Impact Center founder Bret Kugelmass claimed that thousands of SMRs could be built in parallel, "thus reducing costs associated with long borrowing times for prolonged construction schedules and reducing risk premiums currently linked to large projects."[52] GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Executive Vice President Jon Ball agreed, saying the modular elements of SMRs would also help reduce costs associated with extended construction times.[52]


A major barrier to SMR adoption is the licensing process. It was developed for conventional, custom-built reactors, preventing the simple deployment of identical units at different sites.[53] In particular the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission process for licensing has focused mainly on conventional reactors. Design and safety specifications, staffing requirements and licensing fees have all been geared toward reactors with electrical output of more than 700MWe.[54] With a sizable focus on large reactors, it is probable that many countries will have to adapt their policies to coincide with SMRs, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The International Atomic Energy Agency has placed emphasis on creating a central licensing system for SMRs to ensure proper guidelines in the interest of overall public safety.[55]

SMRs caused a reevalution of the licensing process. One workshop in October 2009 and another in June 2010 considered the topic, followed by a Congressional hearing in May 2010. Multiple US agencies are working to define SMR licensing. However, some argue that weakening safety regulations to push the development of SMRs may offset their enhanced safety characteristics.[56][57]

The U.S. Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program was expected to help license and build two prototype SMRs during the 2020s, with up to $4 billion of government funding.[58]

Nuclear ProliferationEdit

Nuclear proliferation, or the use of nuclear materials to create weapons, is a concern for small modular reactors. As SMRs have lower generation capacity and are physically smaller, they are intended to be deployed in many more locations than conventional plants.[59] SMRs are expected to substantially reduce staffing levels. The combination creates physical protection and security concerns.[60][61]

Many SMRs are designed to address these concerns. Fuel can be low-enriched uranium, with less than 20% fissile 235
. This low quantity, sub-weapons-grade uranium is less desirable for weapons production. Once the fuel has been irradiated, the mixture of fission products and fissile materials is highly radioactive and requires special handling, preventing casual theft.

Contrasting to conventional large reactors SMRs can without difficulty be adapted to be installed in a sealed underground chamber; therefore, “reducing the vulnerability of the reactor to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster”.[22] New SMR designs enhance the proliferation resistance, such as those from the reactor design company Gen4.These models of SMR offer a solution capable of operating sealed underground for the life of the reactor following installation.[22][44]

Some SMR designs are designed for one-time fueling. This improves proliferation resistance by eliminating on-site nuclear fuel handling and means that the fuel can be sealed within the reactor. However, this design requires large amounts of fuel, which could make it a more attractive target. A 200 MWe 30-year core life light water SMR could contain about 2.5 tonnes of plutonium at end of life.[61]

Furthermore many SMRs offer the ability to go periods of greater than 10 years without requiring any form of refueling therefore improving the proliferation resistance as compared to conventional large reactors of which entail refueling every 18–24 months[22]

Light-water reactors designed to run on thorium offer increased proliferation resistance compared to the conventional uranium cycle, though molten salt reactors have a substantial risk.[62][63]

SMR factories reduce access, because the reactor is fueled before transport, instead of on the ultimate site.[citation needed]

List of reactor designsEdit

Numerous reactor designs have been proposed. Notable SMR designs:

  Design   Licensing   Under construction   Operational   Cancelled   Retired

The stated power refers to the capacity of one reactor unless specified otherwise.

List of small nuclear reactor designs[64][ view/edit ]
Name Gross power (MWe) Type Producer Country Status
4S 10–50 SFR Toshiba Japan Detailed design
ABV-6 6–9 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Detailed design
ACP100 Linglong One 125 PWR China National Nuclear Corporation China Under Construction [65]
TMSR-LF1 10[66] MSR China National Nuclear Corporation China Under Construction
ARC-100 100 SFR ARC Nuclear Canada Design: Vendor design review.[67] One unit approved for construction at Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in December 2019.[68]
MMR 5 HTGR Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation U.S.A / Canada Licensing stage [69]
ANGSTREM[70] 6 LFR OKB Gidropress Russia Conceptual design
B&W mPower 195 PWR Babcock & Wilcox United States Cancelled in March 2017
BANDI-60 60 PWR KEPCO South Korea Detailed design[71]
BREST-OD-300[72] 300 LFR Atomenergoprom Russia Under construction[73]
BWRX-300[74] 300 ABWR GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy United States Licensing stage
CAREM 27–30 PWR CNEA Argentina Under construction
Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner 50 MSR Copenhagen Atomics Denmark Conceptual design
HTR-PM 210 (2 reactors one turbine) HTGR China Huaneng China One reactor connected to grid in December 2021.[75]
ELENA[76][77] 0.068 PWR Kurchatov Institute Russia Conceptual design
Energy Well[78] 8.4 MSR cs:Centrum výzkumu Řež[79] Czechia Conceptual design
Flexblue 160 PWR Areva TA / DCNS group France Conceptual design
Fuji MSR 200 MSR International Thorium Molten Salt Forum (ITMSF) Japan Conceptual design
GT-MHR 285 GTMHR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design completed
G4M 25 LFR Gen4 Energy United States Conceptual design
GT-MHR 50 GTMHR General Atomics, Framatom United States,France Conceptual design
IMSR400 185–192 MSR Terrestrial Energy[80] Canada Conceptual design
TMSR-500 500 MSR ThorCon[81] Indonesia Conceptual design
IRIS 335 PWR Westinghouse-led international Design (Basic)
KLT-40S Akademik Lomonosov 70 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Operating, May 2020[15] (floating plant)
MCSFR 50–1000 MCSFR Elysium Industries United States Conceptual design
MHR-100 25–87 HTGR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design
MHR-T[a] 205.5 (x4) HTGR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design
MRX 30–100 PWR JAERI Japan Conceptual design
NP-300 100–300 PWR Areva TA France Conceptual design
NuScale 45 PWR NuScale Power LLC United States Licensing stage
Nuward 300–400 PWR consortium France Conceptual design, construction anticipated in 2030[82]
OPEN100 100 PWR Energy Impact Center United States Conceptual design[83]
PBMR-400 165 HTGR Eskom South Africa Cancelled. Postponed indefinitely[6]
Rolls-Royce SMR 470 PWR Rolls-Royce United Kingdom Design stage
SEALER[84][85] 55 LFR LeadCold Sweden Design stage
SMART 100 PWR KAERI South Korea Licensed
SMR-160 160 PWR Holtec International United States Conceptual design
SVBR-100[86][87] 100 LFR OKB Gidropress Russia Detailed design
SSR-W 300–1000 MSR Moltex Energy[88] United Kingdom Conceptual design
S-PRISM 311 FBR GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy United States/Japan Detailed design
U-Battery 4 HTGR U-Battery consortium[b] United Kingdom Design and development work[89][90]
VBER-300 325 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Licensing stage
VK-300 250 BWR Atomstroyexport Russia Detailed design
VVER-300 300 BWR OKB Gidropress Russia Conceptual design
Westinghouse SMR 225 PWR Westinghouse Electric Company United States Cancelled. Preliminary design completed.[91]
Xe-100 80 HTGR X-energy[92] United States Conceptual design development
Updated as of 2014. Some reactors are not included in IAEA Report.[64] Not all IAEA reactors are listed there are added yet and some are added (anno 2021) that were not yet listed in the now dated IAEA report.
  1. ^ Multi-unit complex based on the GT-MHR reactor design
  2. ^ Urenco Group in collaboration with Jacobs and Kinectrics

Proposed sitesEdit


In 2018, the Canadian province of New Brunswick announced it would invest $10 million for a demonstration project at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station.[93] It was later announced that SMR proponents Advanced Reactor Concepts[94] and Moltex[95] would open offices there.

On 1 December 2019, the Premiers of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding [96] "committing to collaborate on the development and deployment of innovative, versatile and scalable nuclear reactors, known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)."[97] They were joined by Alberta in August 2020.[98] With continued support from citizens and government officials have led to the execution of a selected SMR at the Canadian National Nuclear Laboratory.[32]

In 2021 Ontario Power Generation announced they plan to build a BWRX-300 SMR at their Darlington site to be completed by 2028. A licence for construction still had to be applied for.[99]


In July 2019 China National Nuclear Corporation announced it would build an ACP100 SMR on the north-west side of the existing Changjiang Nuclear Power Plant at Changjiang, in the Hainan province by the end of the year.[100] On 7 June 2021, the demonstration project, named the Linglong One, was approved by China's National Development and Reform Commission.[101] In July, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) started the construction.[102] and in October 2021, the containment vessel bottom of the first of two units was installed. Being the world's first commercial land-based SMR prototype, the commercial operation is due to start by the end of 2026.[17]


Polish chemical company Synthos declared plans to deploy a Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor (300 MW) in Poland by 2030.[103] A feasibility study was completed in December 2020 and licensing started with the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency.[104]

In February 2022, NuScale and a large mining conglomerate KGHM announced signing of contract to construct first operational reactor in Poland by 2029.[citation needed]

United KingdomEdit

In 2016 it was reported that the UK Government was assessing Welsh SMR sites - including the former Trawsfynydd nuclear power station - and on the site of former nuclear or coal-fired power stations in Northern England. Existing nuclear sites including Bradwell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Oldbury, Sizewell, Sellafield and Wylfa were stated to be possibilities.[105] The target cost for a 470 MWe Rolls-Royce SMR unit is £1.8 billion for the fifth unit built.[106][107] In 2020 it was reported that Rolls-Royce had plans to construct up to 16 SMRs in the UK. In 2019, the company received £18 million to begin designing the modular system.[108] An additional £210 million was awarded to Rolls-Royce by the British government in 2021, complemented by a £195 million contribution from private firms.[109]

United StatesEdit

In December 2019 the Tennessee Valley Authority was authorized to receive an Early Site Permit (ESP) by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for siting an SMR at its Clinch River site in Tennessee.[110] This ESP is valid for 20 years, and addresses site safety, environmental protection and emergency preparedness. This ESP is applicable for any light-water reactor SMR design under development in the United States.[111]

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced a partnership with Energy Northwest to explore siting a NuScale Power reactor in Idaho, possibly on the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory.[112]

The Galena Nuclear Power Plant in Galena, Alaska was a proposed micro nuclear reactor installation. It was a potential deployment for the Toshiba 4S reactor.


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit