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Small Nuclear Modular Reactors UPSC NOTE

 


What are Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)?

  • Small modular reactors (SMRs) are advanced nuclear reactors.

  • It have a power capacity of up to 300 MW(e) per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors. 

  • SMRs, which can produce a large amount of low-carbon electricity.

  • Small – physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor.

  • Modular – making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation.

  • Reactors – harnessing nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy.

What are the advantages of SMRs?

  • SMRs are designed with 

    • a smaller core damage frequency (the likelihood that an accident will damage the nuclear fuel).

    • a source term (a measure of radioactive contamination) compared to conventional NPPs.

  • They also include enhanced seismic isolation for more safety. 

  • SMR designs are also simpler than those of conventional NPPs.

  • It include several passive safety features, resulting in a lower potential for the uncontrolled release of radioactive materials into the environment. 

  • The amount of spent nuclear fuel stored in an SMR project will also be lower than that in a conventional NPP.

  • Studies have found that SMRs can be safely installed and operated at several brownfield sites that may not meet the more stringent zoning requirements for conventional NPPs. 

  • The power-plant organisation can also undertake community work.

  • Accelerating the deployment of SMRs under international safeguards, by implementing a coal-to-nuclear transition at existing thermal power-plant sites, will take India closer to net-zero and improve energy security.

    • Because uranium resources are not as concentrated as reserves of critical minerals.

  • Most land-based SMR designs require low-enriched uranium, which can be supplied by all countries that possess uranium mines and facilities for such enrichment if the recipient facility is operating according to international standards.

  • Since SMRs are mostly manufactured in a factory and assembled on site, the potential for time and cost overruns is also lower. 

  • Further, serial manufacture of SMRs can reduce costs by simplifying plant design to facilitate more efficient regulatory approvals and experiential learning with serial manufacturing.

  • Since SMRs are designed to operate for more than 40 years, the levelised cost of electricity is $60-90 per MWh. 

  • The figure is expected to drop rapidly after 2035, by when the SMRs ordered by a number of east-European countries from NuScale and GE Hitachi are expected to come online. 

  • The costs will decline steepest for India when reputed companies manufacture SMRs. 

  • This at least was the reason SMRs were included in the U.S.-India joint statement after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met U.S. President Joe Biden in June 2023.

What is the need for an efficient regulatory regime?

  • An efficient regulatory regime comparable to that in the civil aviation sector — which has more stringent safety requirements — is important.

  • This can be achieved if all countries that accept nuclear energy direct their respective regulators to cooperate amongst themselves and with the International Atomic Energy Agency to harmonise their regulatory requirements and expedite statutory approvals for SMRs based on standard, universal designs.

What are the legal and regulatory changes required?

  • The Atomic Energy Act will need to be amended to allow the private sector to set up SMRs. 

  • To ensure safety, security, and safeguards, control of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste must continue to lie with the Govt. of India. 

  • The government will also have to enact a law to create an independent, empowered regulatory board with the expertise and capacity to oversee every stage of the nuclear power generation cycle.

  • The security around SMRs must remain under government control.

  • The Department of Atomic Energy must improve the public perception of nuclear power in India 

    • by better disseminating comprehensive environmental and public health data of the civilian reactors, which are operating under international safeguards, in India.

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