It has been evident for a number of years that there is very little chance that the electric utility industry will resume construction of large nuclear reactors because of cost overruns, delays, permitting and NIMBY. However, there does seem to be some interest in miniature nuclear reactors as a source of steady energy that can reduce carbon emissions.
Several U.S. utilities and power consortiums, in conjunction with manufacturers, have been exploring the potential for small modular reactors (SMRs). World-wide there are dozens of SMR developers, including Bill Gates founded TerraPower, testing designs for SMRs that have less than a third of the generating capacity of traditional, large scale reactors and have components that can be mass-produced.
The concept has the backing of the U.S. Energy Department, suggesting that selected entrants are likely to receive some funding through legislation currently working its way through Congress. However, it appears that would-be SMR manufacturers are still years away from proving that the technology is feasible and economic.
Some utilities and SMR developers believe that relying on renewables and storage technology alone is not likely to enable electricity suppliers to meet carbon emission goals within the next two decades.
All comments and suggestions are welcome.
Walter J. Kirchberger, CFA®