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What advanced nuclear reactor designs are likely to be successful and why? Updated for 2021.

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

  • Member since 2018
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In November 2018 Energy Central posted a question about success factors for advanced nuclear reactors. The resulting Q&A discussion garnered over 6,000 page views. Now three years later some trends are emerging that indicate the answers are more complicated, but also there are opportunities to get to the answers in ways that rely on methods of producing industrial process which succeeded in the U.S. over 100 years ago.

As some readers may recall, US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover pointed out that paper reactors are easy to design. The hard part is building one.

This axiom was proved recently as Transatomic Power folded its high-profile tent saying that their design would not be commercially viable.

Examples of advanced designs include TRISO fueled systems, molten salt, sodium cooled, lead cooled, etc. It's a long list. See the home page for the GEN IV international program which lists six generic types of advanced reactors.

So what are the success factors that will bring any of these designs to market and what firms are more likely to master them than others?  Please post your replies here.

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) publishes a directory of U,S, based developers of advanced nuclear energy technologies, suppliers, and national labs. The current edition lists nearly three dozen efforts in the U.S. to develop advanced nuclear reactors and about 30 key suppliers who want to produce components to build them. Efforts to build demonstration units are also underway.
 

This directory by GAIN was created in partnership between the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) and Third Way, with the help of the United States Nuclear Infrastructure Council (USNIC).
 

Questions About Advanced Reactors

In 2018 Energy Central post just one question about what success might look like for advanced nuclear reactors. In 2021, as the number of efforts to design and build them has expanded. Here are three questions, and a take on the answers, for comment.

has expanded. Here are three questions, and a take on the answers, for comment-- follow the links to see further discussion on each of these questions!

 

QUESTION #1: How do we balance diversity and standardization design of various types of advanced reactors? Is this a valid question or is that a false dilemma? Especially for smaller designs, it would appear to be imperative to standardize and expedite the development of economies of scale to help build robust supply chains and factory fabrication of small modular reactors, e.g., less than 300 MWe. 

The theoretical global market for SMRs and advanced reactors is quite large, but at this stage, given current market opportunities and industrial/manufacturing capacity, what is the best way to proceed?

 

This question posed to the Energy Central Community to encourage discussion, as well as my answer, can be found here. 


QUESTION #2: There are host of design considerations for advanced nuclear: safety obviously, but also simplicity and ease of construction, supply chain availability, back-end fuel cycle sustainability, security and safeguards, flexibility in deployment and application, etc. Do you see any pair of design considerations for advanced reactors that may pose a dilemma—may be challenging to reconcile or perhaps even mutually exclusive?

 

 

This question posed to the Energy Central Community to encourage discussion, as well as my answer, can be found here. 


QUESTION #3: The nuclear community has been keen on seeking lessons, models, and templates from other industries and sectors. With respect to many of the issues, what are some industries, sectors, or even historical case studies that might be overlooked, but you believe would be invaluable for the nuclear industry, advanced reactor developers, etc. to examine or investigate further?

 

This question posed to the Energy Central Community to encourage discussion, as well as my answer, can be found here. 


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