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Project Title: Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

Course Code: MBE 3111 Introduction to Nuclear Power Plant


Group Member:
CHOY Kin Wai, 53566421
Wong Kam Wong, 53562434

Introduction
According to the definition by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Small
modular Reactors (SMRs) refer to the reactors with an electricity capacity output of
less than 300MWe. The main features of SMRs can be divided into two parts: small
and modular. Small refers to the low electricity capacity and modular means that most
of the parts of SMR can be built from the factory. Those characteristics of SMR can
help response to the demand of flexible, scalable electricity capacity for various
Region or organization which cannot fit in the conventional, huge reactor.
In this report, we will introduce SMR from various aspects. In the first part, we will
provide some background information and current situation of SMR development.
In the second part, we will discuss different species of SMRs respectively and their
operating principle. In the third part, we will take three SMR designs as examples to
show their features. In part four, we will focus on the safety of SMR and their
application. Finally, we will conclude by the prospects of SMR.

Definition of small modular reactor


Small reactor- that produce 300MW or smaller than 300MW in capacity which is
small amount of output comparing to conventional reactors.
Modular reactor- that can be manufactured in a factory and delivered and installed at
the site in modules. This allows for less on-site construction and increase containment
efficiency.

The current development of SMR


The scalable designs of SMR arouse many regions interests, hence, numerous
organization, including the member of IAEA, consider SMR as an investment and
step forward for the design program of SMR. Some countries start to explore the
application of shippable nuclear power plants like floating and seabed-based SMRs.

(Picture 1: The map of Global SMR Technology Development)


United
State
and
Russia
lead
the
SMR

development.

From the picture, we can see that among the members of IAEA, United State and
Russia are the biggest developers of SMR until 2014. There are more than 45 designs
of SMRs however, most of them are in the beginning stage like conceptual design or
licensing stage. Only few of them are under construction or in operation. So far, there
is no commercial use SMR constructing or operating.

Type of small modular reactor


Light-water reactors
A modular light-water reactor is basically a scaled-down version of a conventional
reactor. Like conventional reactors, it uses water as a coolant and a neutron moderator
(that is, the water slows down the neutrons produced by the nuclear fuel so that the
uranium atoms have a better chance of absorbing them and inducing nuclear fission.
The trick of fission is simply to have enough nuclear fuel in one place with a
moderator so that the reaction becomes self-sustaining). Engineers already have
decades of experience with light-water SMRs because these are the type used on
submarines and icebreakers, so the technology is already advanced and has had lots of
field testing under very hard conditions. Imagine a nuclear power plant that has to be
able to operate safely as it's being tossed about in the ocean while sealed inside a
submarine hull and you can see the daunting challenges that have been overcome.
Small light-water reactors are not as efficient as their larger cousins, but they have a
number of advantages. Steam is produced in a nuclear plant by passing a loop of
cooling water from the reactor through the steam generator, which is a separate vessel
filled with coiling pipes. The hot cooling water enters the generator and as it runs
through the pipes a second coil filled with water is heated by the water from the
reactor. This changes to steam, which turns the turbines that turns the dynamos. On a
conventional reactor, most types have the steam generator outside the reactor vessel.
With light-water SMRs, the steam generator can be placed inside the vessel. This not
only makes the reactor more compact and self-contained, but it also makes it much
safer. One common problem in reactors is radioactive water leaking as it travels from
the reactor to the steam generator. With the steam generator inside the reactor vessel,
it's the much safer situation of only non-radioactive water/steam going into and out of
the reactor vessel.

High-temperature gas cooled reactors

As the term implies, gas-cooled reactors use a gas instead of water as a reactor
cooling medium. In modern reactors this gas is usually helium because it's an inert
element that doesn't react with other materials, yet is an excellent coolant (just ask any
mixed-gas deep sea diver and he will tell you why they have a heating tube in their
suit while breathing helium). This is important because, not using water, the
moderator for the nuclear reaction is a graphite core, which is flammable. These
operate at relatively low pressures and high gas temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees F
(1,000 degrees C) and the gas either drives the turbines directly or via a steam
generator. This reactor type has safety advantages because the way the design makes
the nuclear reaction self-regulating. As the reactor gets hotter, the reaction slows
down and the reactor cools. It also lends itself to smaller scales to allow for factory
building and underground installation.

Fast neutron reactor


In conventional reactors, neutrons are slowed down by a moderator such as water,
carbon or helium so that the uranium atoms have a better chance of absorbing them
and initiating fission. A fast neutron reactor manages the same fission reaction except
it does so by reflecting fast-moving neutrons back into the uranium in large quantities
and thereby increasing the odds of fission. This has the advantage of allowing reactors
to be very simple in design (and hence smaller) and to use enriched fuels, thorium or
even nuclear waste as fuel.
There are two types of fast neutron systems used in current SMR designs. The first are
candle, breed-burn or traveling-wave reactors. The second, standing wave reactors.
The "candle" name for the first variety stems from the fact that that's what the fuel
resembles. Put simply, it is a big slab of depleted uranium with a plug of enriched
uranium stuck in one end. When the nuclear reaction starts, the enriched uranium
"ignites" the slab by initiating a reaction that turns the U-238 into Pu-239, an isotope
of plutonium that can fission and generate power. This reaction burns along the slab at
roughly one centimeter per year, creating and burning plutonium as it goes. It's a
process that can take years, even decades, as the reactor burbles away at a temperature
of about 1,000 degrees F (550 degrees C) while cooled by liquid sodium, lead or leadbismuth alloy.
The other version is called a "standing wave," and the principle is the same, except
instead of a great slab, the reactor is made up of fuel rods of U-238 and the reaction is
started in the center. As the reaction proceeds outwards, the spent rods are reshuffled
by the operators until all the fuel is consumed. The upshot of this is that a traveling

wave reactor uses it fuel more efficiently and can run for 60 years without refueling.
Theoretically, it could go for 200 years.
With either type, they are also unusual in that they have no moderator, rely on passive
cooling, can be built in factories and have no moving parts. They are as close to plugand-play as nuclear reactors can get.
Molten salt reactors
In this type of SMR, the coolant and the fuel are one in the same. The coolant is a
mixture of lithium and beryllium fluoride salts. In this is dissolved a fuel, which can
be enriched uranium, thorium or U-233. This molten salt solution passes at relatively
low pressure and a temperature of 1,300 degrees F (700 degrees C) through a graphite
moderator core. As the fuel burns, the waste products are removed from the solution
and fresh fuel is added.

Operation of small modular reactor


There are a variety of different type of small modular reactor, some reactors are using
simplified version of current reactors, other are involved new technologies.
Most nuclear reactor such as small modular reactor use controlled fission chain to
generate power.
Fission chain
Nuclear reactors generate heat through nuclear fission. The atom will split when an
unstable nucleus (235-U) absorbs an extra neutron, then release large quantities of
energy in the form of heat and radiation. In addition, the split atom will also release
neutrons, which may be absorbed by other unstable nuclei 235-U) to cause a chain
reaction (fission chain). For this result, a sustained fission chain is necessary to
generate nuclear power.

(Picture 2: The principle of nuclear fission)


A nuclear fission chain is required to generate nuclear power.
Fission chain need certain conditions to attain. First, certain fuel densities are
necessary, which means the neutrons are not able to impact a sufficient number of
other unstable atoms before escaping the reactor. Then the fission chain will not occur.
Second, the travelling speed of neutrons are important. It is also easier for unstable
nuclei to absorb neutrons when the neutrons are traveling at a certain speed. For 235U, neutrons with slower speed are more likely to cause a fission reaction. For this
reason, a moderator is used to slow down the neutrons in a reactor core. Water is the
most common moderator in use today. The neutrons are slowed down as they travel
through the water. As the reaction speeds up and the temperature of the reactor
increases, increasing the temperature of the moderator, the neutrons are not slowed
down as effectively. This in turn reduces the rate of nuclear reactions inside the core,
since the faster neutrons are not easy to absorb. This effect, the negative temperature
coefficient, makes the reactor inherently resistant to "excursion", or a sudden,
uncontrolled increase in temperature.

Fast reactors
Some small modular reactors are "fast reactors" they do not use moderators to slow
down the neutrons. The fuel requirements in this type of reactor are a little different.
The atoms have to absorb neutrons travelling at higher speeds. This usually means
changing the fuel arrangement within the core, or using different fuel types. 239-Pu is
more likely to absorb a high-speed neutron than 235-U. However, the same negative
temperature coefficient comes into play with fast nuclear reactors. Once the core heats

up too much and the neutrons start to move faster, even the elements that would
usually be able to absorb neutrons have trouble capturing them. Fission slows, and the
reactor cannot run out of control.
The advantage of fast reactors is that some of them are breeder reactors. As these
reactors produce energy, they also let off enough neutrons to transmute nonfissionable elements into fissionable ones. For example, a very common use for a
breeder reactor is to surround the core in a "blanket" of 238-U, which is the most
easily found isotope of uranium. Once the 238-U undergoes a neutron absorption
reaction, it becomes 239-Pu, which can be removed from the reactor once it is time to
refuel, and used as more fuel once it has been cleaned.

Designs of SMRs
In this section, some SMRs designs are provided as examples to show the
characteristics of SMR. They are International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS),
Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) and NuScale and we will highlight
some of their feature to promote their competitiveness.
Design

of

International

Reactor

Innovative

and

Secure

(IRIS)

IRIS is a reactor of PWR with smaller scale which can generate 100 to 335 MWe of
electricity capacity (per module). IRIS is an international project committed by 9
countries and coordinated by an United State company called Westinghouse. IRIS still
in basic design and the company is seeking partnership for further development.

(Picture 3: Statistics of IRIS)


Design features of IRIS:
IRIS is well known by its safety by design philosophy. Most of the reactor design
may consider how a power plant react to the accident after it happens. Then the
passive of active safety design will be one of important part during the design.
However, based on safety be design philosophy, the designer aims at eliminating by

the possibility for an accident to occur. That is the reason why passive or active safety
system is the minor part of the whole design. Safety by design bring to IRIS two
advantages
:
1. Defense in depth:
Under the concept of safety by design, IRIS does more than the conventional reactor.
Which eliminates the accidents initiators hence, the probability of damage or accident
is significantly lower than the traditional LWRs.

(Table 1: Safety Criterion between advanced present LWRs and IRIS)


This table shows a comparison of data between Advanced present LWRs and IRIS in
safety section. IRIS generally performs better than advanced present LWRs due to its
Defense-in-Depth (DID) design, lower Core Damage Frequency (CDF) and Large
Early Release Frequency (LERF) and so forth.
Take a typical accident of reactors, loss of coolant accident (LOCA), as example.
LOCA results from a large break of external primary piping while IRIS has no large
external piping due to its small size and safe in design philosophy. Therefore, there is
no probability of its occurrence.

(Table 2: The occurrence probability and the post-impact of IRIS)


This table discuss the accident which may occur in IRIS. We can see that for IRIS, the
design can lower the probability of some events, even eliminated.
2. Simplified Design
Safety in design eliminates lots of accident occurrence, which indirectly simplified the
conventional passive and safety design. For example, IRIS spool type pump are
lubricated by the coolant, the coolant pump oil lubricant is eliminated. As mentioned,
IRIS reduces the probability of accident occurrence, which also reduces off-site
emergency response planning for instance, the emergency zone equals to the site
exclusion zone.

For the containment, the shape of IRIS is spherical and it is approximately 22-27
meters in diameter. For a typical 600 MWe PWR, it has 58 meters tall and 40 meters
in diameter. Comparing to IRIS, the conventional PWR is almost a double size of
IRIS.
Unlike the conventional designs, due to the huge size and capacity, they need to build
a separate vessel for the specific components like pressurizer.
By this point, it shortens the construction time and make is scalable and flexible.
Design of Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM)
PRISM is a scale down sodium cooled fast breeder reactor which can generate
155MWe of electricity capacity (per module). PRISM designed by GE Hitachi from
United State. It is a underground installed reactor. Its economical, sustainable design
makes it close to be the generation IV reactor design.

(Picture 4: Statistic of PRISM)

Design feature of PRISM


1. Reactor Vessel Auxiliary Cooling System (RVACS)
RVACS is a decay heat removal system of PRISM which can maintain the reactor
temperature below design limits by natural circulation. The air flows naturally around
the lower containment vessel is the key of the stability of the temperature. While this
system keep operating and providing the positive indication this system is working.

(Picture 4: The principle of RVACS)


The vessel is surrounded by the natural air flow (the colored area), which brings the
decay heat away to stable the temperature.
2. Metal fueled design
PRISM contain metallic fuel composed by the alloy of zirconium, uranium and
plutonium. The rods stay in the bath of liquid metal at atmosphere pressure which
raise the efficiency of the heat transfer from the metal fuel to the liquid metal coolant.
3. Waste to Watts
Waste to Watts is a sustainable design aims to reuse the nuclear waste like
transuranics to generate extra electricity. It is estimated that if the nuclear waste is
properly recycled, at least 100 times more electricity from the used fuel can be
produced. Moreover, the long-term radiotoxicity is decreased. Also, 95% energy
remains in used fuel removed from light water reactor can be accessible to PRISM.
PRISM can consume plutonium, thats why United Kingdom take PRISM as an
option to tackle with the issue of civil plutonium stockpiles.
Design

of

Nuscale:

Nuscale is a scale down module of Integral pressurized water generating 45MWe


per module. This model is designed by NuScale Power from United State. Similarly,
the reactor is underground installed. Its tiny size and low electrical capacity make it a
scalable and flexible option for the investigators.
The
basic
statistic
are
on
the
table
below:

(Picture

5:

Statistic

of

NuScale)

Design feature of NuScale:


1. Natural Circulation of Primary Circulation:
NuScale applied the Natural circulation as their coolant system therefore the
components of traditional forced coolant system like pumps, motor, valves, piping is
almost eliminated while water is heated when it passes over the core. Which reduce
the size also the probability of breakage of the components. The whole reactor is
submerged by below-ground water and it reduces post-impact jet fuel fire concerns.

(Picture 6: The structure of Nuscale)


The picture shows the structure of Nuscale. The whole reactor is built underground
and submerged by water which reduced the damage of natural disaster like
earthquake. Due to the natural circulation, the under-ground water can feed in as the
emergency feedwater cooling even there is no passive safety system for water cooling.
2.

Scalable design

Power generating capacity can be changing by adding or removing the module of


reactors. The maximum modules number is 12. In order words, the total electrical
capacity can be 45MWe the minimum to 540MWe the minimum. So far, it is the only
design that can change the module number. Furthermore, the tiny size of each module
also bring much competitiveness. Each reactor vessels have 20m tall and 2.7m in
diameters, that is one of the reasons why NuScale can be flexible scaled. The tiny size
and small electricity capacity are helpful to some region that has less demand of
energy. Meanwhile, they can decide their own plan for the electricity requirement,
building schedule, building location due to the low electricity capacity, short building
time and less environmental limits respectively.

Safety of small modular reactor


Passive cooling system

The cooling system of SMRs are relies more on the natural circulation of the cooling
medium within the reactor's containment flask than on pumps. This passive cooling is
one of the ways that SMRs can improve safety.

Less fuel
SMRs are smaller than conventional reactors, so they contain less fuel. This means
that there are less of a mass to be affected if an accident occurs. If one does happen,
there are less radioactive material that can be released into the environment and
makes it easier to design emergency systems. Since they are smaller and use less mass
of fuel, they are easier to cool effectively, which greatly reduces the likelihood of a
catastrophic accident or meltdown in the first place.

Underground installation
SMRs are small enough to be installed below ground. This measure makes it less
vulnerable to earthquakes. Underground installations make modular reactors easier to
secure and install in a much smaller footprint. This makes SMRs particularly
attractive to military customers who need to build power plants for bases quickly.
Underground installation also enhances security with fewer sophisticated systems
needed, which also helps to reduce costs.

Reject of water cooling


The SMRs design that reject water cooling in favor of gas, metal or salt have their
own safety advantages. Unlike water-cooled reactors, these media operate at a lower
pressure. One of the hazards of water cooling is that a cracked pipe or a damaged seal
can blow radioactive gases out like anti-freeze out of an overheated car radiator. With
low-pressure media, there is less force to push gases out and there is less stress placed
on the containment vessel. It also eliminates one of the frightening episodes of the
Fukushima accident where the water in the vessel broke down into hydrogen and
oxygen and then exploded.

Innovation and Application


SMRs are cheaper to construct and run. Moreover, the size of SMRs are very small.
This is attractive to poorer, energy-starved countries. In addition, SMRs can be cooled
by air, gas, low-melting point metals or salt. This means that SMRs can be placed in
remote, inland areas where it is not possible to site conventional reactors.

The electricity demand in remote locations are usually small and highly variable.
Conventional nuclear power plants are generally rather inflexible in their power
generation capabilities. SMRs have a load-following design so that they can produce
the appreciate demand of power to meet the need of the remote locations.

Many SMRs are designed to use new fuel ideas that allow for higher burnup rates and
longer lifecycles. Longer refueling intervals can reduce proliferation risks and lower
chances of radiation escaping containment. For reactors in remote locations,
accessibility can be troublesome, so longer fuel life can be very helpful.

Challenge of SMRs in future


Institutional Obstacles
The big challenge for SMRs now is the institutional barriers. Currently, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission has not certified a single SMR design. Despite the variety of
SMR designs from several nuclear vendors, the NRC has lacked sufficient human and
technical capacity to license small modular reactors in the past. Even as policymakers
have expressed greater interest in SMRs in recent years, the licensing process for a
new design takes several years at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover,
some regulations create a difficult environment for small reactors and favor large
reactors. For example, the NRC requires 10 mile emergency planning zones around
nuclear power plants, 6 American security project making it difficult to site a small
reactor near urban centers where it could be used for energy applications other than
centralized electricity generation.

No Performance History
The nuclear industry has maintained a high performance standard with its fleet of
large light water reactors, and SMRs would need to demonstrate the same high
performance. However, as with any new technology, SMRs have no track record to
prove their performance. The industry lacks a credible demonstration project that
would inform future projects and inspire confidence. SMRs need to demonstrate
benefits over conventional reactor, including advantages in cost, safety and flexibility.
Looking forward, this creates a chicken and egg problem. In order to reduce costs,
nuclear vendors will need a high-tech manufacturing facility to mass produce small
reactors. However, in order to justify the construction of such a facility, the industry
estimates it will need to book dozens of orders upfront. It cannot book these orders
without proof of cost, safety and performance. Industry leaders are hesitant to be the
first-mover in an uncertain market, and governments are reluctant to provide
incentives or invest in unproven products.

Safety Concerns
While there are real safety benefits of SMRs, critics site new safety concerns with
SMRs that are not associated with conventional nuclear plants. The owner of small
modular reactors would need to manage, inspect, and maintain more reactors for the
same amount of power output as a single large reactor. The industry needs to prove
that the inherent safety advantage of SMRs over large reactors outweigh the
downsides.

Conclusion:
Due to its small size and characteristics of modular, the difficulty of construction is
decreased. While designer can relatively focus more on the components and much
more possibility on designs can be developed. As we know that, the key elements of
generation IV reactors are economical, safety and sustainable. From some of the
models of SMRs, we can see some breakthrough on these aspects. For instance,
safety in design philosophy from IRIS, scalable design from NuScale and Waste to
Watts concept from PRISM. We all can see the contribution of SMRs to the
generation IV reactor. Though there are still some obstacles which may be concerned,

by accumulating experience, it is possible to enhance the current reactor to be safer


and
more
economical.
It is believed that SMRs can be generally used in most of the environment as its
scalable design, less construction limit and lower cost. Not only developed, advanced
region with huge plain can build SMRs by their own, but also the undeveloped, rural
countries. Therefore, the potential market is very large. By further improve SMR, it is
possible to promote nuclear to more regions.

Reference
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