Despite being hailed as the future of electricity generation in the UK, small nuclear reactors may actually produce more waste than their larger counterparts, as our Gossage Gossip columnist explains.
A planned new generation of small nuclear reactors will create more waste than conventional reactors, according to an authoritative new study. The projects, called small modular reactors (SMR), are designed to be simpler and safer than conventional plants in the case of an accident. They are also expected to be built in factories and shipped to locations across the world, as opposed to today’s massive reactors, which are built on-site and typically run billions of pounds over budget.
SMR backers maintain they are a safe way to boost generation of virtually emissions-free electricity. But the reactors would create far more radioactive waste per unit of electricity they generate than conventional reactors by a factor of up to 30, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the American National Academy of Sciences.
Some of these smaller reactors, with molten salt and sodium-cooled designs, are expected to create waste that needs to go through additional conditioning to make it safe to store in a repository.
Allison Macfarlane, a co-author of the study and former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said SMR designers ‘don’t pay that much attention in general to the waste, because the thing that makes money for them is the reactor. But it is important to know about the waste products, and whether they’re going to pose such difficulties in managing and then disposing of them. Which they are.’