Small modular light-water reactors (SMRs) are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades. Featuring numerous safety enhancements, the ability to better match new generation capacity with electric demand growth and to be deployed in diverse applications, the potential for SMRs is enormous. Together with large light-water and non-light-water reactors, SMRs are part of the all-of-the-above nuclear energy portfolio needed to meet national goals on energy security and mitigation of climate change.

The unique benefits and flexibility of SMRs will be highly valued in the future by the marketplace and society as a whole; as the trend in carbon reduction continues and as aging generation facilities need to be replaced. The following are a few of the most compelling benefits of SMRs:

Fuel Diversity and Carbon-Free Benefits

Holtec SMR Advanced Manufacturing Facility

Holtec SMR Advanced Manufacturing Facility

SMRs provide the same valued benefits of nuclear energy, that is, they produce large amounts of reliable, economic, carbon-free electricity. Nuclear energy currently generates more than 60 percent of the non-emitting electricity in the U.S. – preventing the equivalent of the carbon emissions produced annually by all U.S. motor vehicles. Nuclear is the only source of clean air energy that is neither intermittent nor dependent upon local weather conditions. Nuclear energy also is critical to maintaining fuel diversity in the U.S. If the U.S. becomes overly dependent on natural gas fueled electricity generation, it could expose consumers to punishing volatility and loss of reliability. A diverse portfolio – including nuclear energy as a significant fuel source – is an essential characteristic of a robust and resilient system.

Matching Demand Growth and Affordability

Modular facilities allow generating companies to better match construction of new capacity with electricity load growth – particularly important in parts of the country where load growth may have slowed for decades and in areas where the electricity grid is not developed enough to support larger nuclear energy facilities. Capital investments also can be staged as modules are constructed. This could be particularly important for smaller companies – rural electric cooperatives or municipal agencies, for example – that cannot afford the $6 billion to $7 billion up-front costs associated with a 1,000-megawatt reactor.

Diverse Applications and Siting Flexibility

SMRs can power retired fossil fuel sites that are closer to population centers, can be deployed in remote areas where the grid is small, and can provide power for industrial process heat, desalination or water purification, and co-generation applications, such as for the petrochemical industry. Safety advances in SMRs are expected to provide public health and safety assurance without the need for large emergency planning zones. These flexibilities allow SMRs to bring the benefits of nuclear energy to more locations and customers.

NuScale SMR multi-module simulator control room

NuScale SMR multi-module simulator control room

Economic Growth and Job Creation

SMRs can be manufactured in the U.S. to meet growing domestic and export demand, creating high-tech domestic manufacturing jobs and improving America’s global competitiveness. The International Trade Administration noted that the development of SMRs for domestic use or export “could mean tremendous new commercial opportunities for U.S. firms and workers … and could result in the creation of many new jobs in manufacturing, engineering, transportation, construction … and craft labor, professional services, and ongoing plant operations.” According to the UK National Nuclear Laboratory, there is a robust global market potential for SMRs, estimated at 65-85 gigawatts by 2035. Relative to other clean energy technologies, SMRs would create significantly more jobs with higher salaries providing more economic development benefits than the alternatives.

U.S. Leadership in International Markets

Maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology is important to achieving U.S. economic and security goals. A vibrant U.S. supply chain of nuclear reactor designers and manufacturers would create tens of thousands of jobs. Large nuclear plants are constructed in the field and, as a result, field construction results in jobs at the plant site. In contrast, SMRs can mostly be built at offsite factories, and have a significantly larger market potential to export components for SMR facilities built in other countries. The export of home-grown nuclear technologies increases U.S. influence over nuclear nonproliferation policy and practices, and ensures the highest possible levels of nuclear power plant safety and reliability around the world.

SMR facilities could range from a few dozen to over 1,000 megawatts-electric depending on the actual number of units deployed, with the majority of facilities expected to produce between 300 to 600 megawatts-electric.[1]   Construction and operation of a 600 megawatt SMR facility with multiple reactors is estimated to employ about 800 to 900 manufacturing and construction workers for about 4 years and about 300 permanent positions for the 60+ years the SMR operates. The data shows that each permanent position creates a multiplier effect resulting in 1.66 additional jobs in the local community and 2.36 additional jobs in the rest of the state. Payroll taxes alone from the direct and indirect employees associated with one nuclear plant over 60 years total over $400 million.[2]

mPower SMR

mPower SMR

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a need for 196 gigawatts of new electric capacity by 2040. In addition, the U.S. has about 300 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity, with a consensus estimate that as much as 126 gigawatts of generating capacity will be permanently retired by 2030. Using a conservative assumption of SMRs capturing an additional 5 percent of the electricity generation market share between 2025 and 2040, the demand for SMR facilities in the U.S. would exceed 15 gigawatts. The total economic output anticipated for that level of SMR generation capacity over a 40 year lifetime is $215 billion in direct output and nearly $400 billion of direct and indirect output.

World Energy Outlook 2014 projects nuclear generation capacity to grow internationally by 624 gigawatts (including the U.S. share of 16 percent) by 2040. Most of this growth is concentrated in China (46 percent) and India, Korea and Russia (30 percent). The global market for nuclear technologies is estimated at $500 billion to $750 billion over the next 10 years. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, every $1 billion of exports by U.S. companies represents 5,000 to 10,000 jobs. If U.S. exporters of SMR technologies were able to capture 10 percent of the global market this would create (or sustain) tens of thousands of high-paying American jobs in addition to billions of dollars in tax revenues.

The following are the leading U.S. SMR designs:

Companies Design Capacity
Holtec SMR LLC SMR-160 320 MWe

(2 modules x 160 MWe)

Bechtel and BWXT Generation mPower 390 MWe

(2 modules x 195 MWe)

NuScale and Fluor NuScale Power Module 600 MWe

(12 modules x 50 MWe)

[1] SMRs are defined as reactors that produce less than 300 megawatts-electric with a facility containing one or more reactors.
[2] The average 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant generates approximately $943 million in direct and indirect economic output or value. This includes over $453 million in the plant’s annual electricity sales and indirect and induced spending at the local, state and national levels of $17 million, $80 million, and $393 million, respectively. The average nuclear plant pays about $16 million in state and local taxes and $67 million in federal taxes annually. Nuclear jobs pay 36 percent more than average salaries in the local area.