Geoff Black, professor of economics, recently had his article Economic viability of light water small modular nuclear reactors: General methodology and vendor data published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Resources Reviews. This journal is ranked above the 95th percentile and has a wide readership and many citations.
“This article is important because a major new technology to produce carbon-free energy, small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), has been hampered in its commercial development due to a large degree of uncertainty regarding its economic viability, especially given the relatively high costs of traditional nuclear power plants,” explains Black. “This article uses an innovative methodology to estimate the manufacturing and construction costs and, for the first time, incorporates actual cost data from a firm developing this technology. The article shows that there are major cost savings relative to traditional nuclear power plants and that this technology is economically competitive. This will go a long way to reduce the uncertainty and facilitate the commercial development of SMRs. The vendor providing the detailed cost data, NuScale Power, has an agreement with UAMPS, the major utility in eastern Idaho and Utah, to develop a commercial power plant at the INL site near Idaho Falls.”
Increasing global energy demand coupled with the need to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gases make investments in new carbon-free energy technologies more important than ever. One promising new technology is light water small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Their relatively small size, modular design, reduced construction times, enhanced safety and other features make them a potentially attractive energy source. A critical element in assessing their potential for future development, however, is their economic viability relative to other energy sources. The most common metric to assess a power system’s economic viability is the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). The LCOE method allows comparisons across energy producing technologies with different capital, operating, fuel, and other costs as well as different levels of power produced and operating horizons. The manufacture, construction and other initial capital costs loom large in LCOE calculations. To date, however, there has been substantial uncertainty regarding these capital costs for SMRs and, as a result, attendant uncertainty about the economic viability of SMRs relative to other energy sources.
In order to reduce this uncertainty, this research provides a general framework for estimating the direct and indirect costs of producing SMRs. This study incorporates detailed cost data from a major developer of small modular reactors, NuScale LLC to provide direct and indirect capital cost estimates of the NuScale SMR and cost comparisons with conventional large-scale nuclear power plants. These comparisons illustrate that design simplification, reduced componentry, modularity, and other features of the SMR design result in significant savings in overall base costs. These cost estimates provide strong evidence that SMRs have the potential to be
economically competitive with other energy sources while at the same time yielding significant benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions from power generating facilities.