Research indicates that in 1996 nuclear power constituted more than 17% share in the world energy mix. However, in the year 2019, the share of nuclear power has sharply declined to 10-11%. Declining interest in nuclear power is attributed to the capital-intensive nature of the conventional nuclear industry followed by rising investments in green energy. In a nutshell, the nuclear industry is beginning to shift its interests towards small and medium nuclear power reactors or small modular reactors (SMRs), which can reduce the impact of capital costs and provide power away from large grid systems.
SMRs are the portable version of conventional nuclear reactors, are more economical and safer compared to conventional reactors. SMR’s are nuclear reactors having 300 MWe equivalent capacity or less. The small modular nuclear reactor is most favoured as one of the potential sources of CO2-free district heat production. It has the ability to replace combined heat &power (CHP) plants. In the last few years, small modular reactor (SMR) projects have been making considerable progress with two reactors currently under construction: the CAREM-25 (a prototype) in Argentina and the KLT-40S in the Russian Federation. Once operational, this would boost investments in SMR technology across the globe.
Interest in SMRs is majorly due to the need to reduce the total capital costs of nuclear power plants and to provide uninterrupted power supply to smart cities and infrastructural projects through small grid-connected systems. This, in turn, leading to more designs reaching advanced stages of development.
Lower Capital Costs to Attract Investments for SMRs
High capital costs associated with the development of traditional nuclear plants is a potential driver for small modular reactors. The world currently lacks energy security. High dependency on fossil fuels has resulted in the depletion of finite resources such as crude oil, natural gas, and coal. Inadequate supply of fossil fuels to sustain future demand has resulted in the utilization of other sources for power generation. This would drive the nuclear energy market in the next few years, especially through SMRs.
A typical nuclear power plant has an average life of 30-35 years and is licensed to operate up to 35 years. If licenses are not renewed, the nuclear plant will go through a decommissioning process, which involves the disposal of radioactive wastes and dismantling of nuclear reactors.
Shutting down old, aged nuclear reactors, followed by accidents in existing traditional nuclear reactors, has resulted in concerns related to the development of safe and secure nuclear reactors. This has opened up a whole new avenue for growth for SMR manufacturers.
There is growing customer interest in SMRs as the demand for reliable, clean and flexible baseload electricity continues to gain momentum. Furthermore, in the near future SMRs will be needed as large retirements of baseload generation. SMRs can be a better match to meet the demand at lower up-front capital costs, provide flexibility to integrate with renewables and repower retired fossil plant sites. SMRs can generate highly resilient baseload power. SMRs will be even more important if the demand for carbon-free generation continues to grow.
Pressurized Water Reactors to Dominate the Market
In 2019, pressurized water reactors (PWR) constituted a major share of the global SMR market. The dominance of PWR is attributed to its high operational stability followed by low-cost compared to other configured reactor types available in the market. Also, PWR reactors are safe to operate as the chances of water contamination with radioactive materials is low due to separate primary and secondary loops. Pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) follows behind PWR and is expected to grab additional share owing to planned and near-term deployment projects by 2025.
Europe to Lead in Terms of Installation Capacity of SMR’s
In 2018, there were about 450 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, with a combined capacity of about 400 MWe. About 150 power reactors with a total gross capacity of about 160,000 MWe are planned or on order and about 300 more are proposed. Most reactors currently planned are in the Asian region, as the region boasts fast-growing economies that are generating a high demand for electricity. In Europe, Russia dominated the SMR market. In 2020, there were 5 operational SMR’s with an overall capacity of more than 600 MWe. Of these, three are installed in Russia & CIS. Also, Russia & CIS combined have a few more SMRs lined-up for near-term deployment.
In North America, NuScalePower has had the first-ever SMR design certification application accepted for review by the U.S. nuclear regulator in March 2017 and expects to have its design ready for deployment by 2020 to meet the needs of the U.S. first-mover projects. Thus, in research & development-front, the U.S. is expected to lead the market.
In September 2020, NuScale small modular reactor design becomes the first to get NRC safety approval. The design approval is the first issued for a U.S. small modular reactor, representing a milestone for the entire industry. In the U.S., NuScale's first plant of 60 MW modules capable of generating 720 MW will be deployed at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL) for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS).
Countries in Asia Pacific, especially China, are the key consumers of electricity, giving nuclear power generators significantly shot in the arm. Currently, China has one operational SMR while two are under construction.
Growing investments into affordable power generation systems which can solve energy security issues are expected to drive the demand for SMR’s across the globe. Furthermore, power supply shortage due to decommissioning of existing/old traditional nuclear reactors can be met through the deployment of SMR’s. This has set the stage for numerous planned and near-term deployment SMR projects across the globe.
Global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Market: Competitive Landscape
Key players involved in small modular reactor (SMR) market include NuScale, OKBM Afrikantov, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Atomics, Holtec International, Terrestrial Energy, Bechtel Corporation, BWX Technologies Inc., Rolls Royce, Moltex Energy, etc.
In October 2019, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Synthos SA collaborated to investigate the potential to construct GEH’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor in Poland. The BWRX-300, is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR.
Key Elements Included In The Study: Global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Market
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