new nuclear technologies

Generation IV New Nuclear Technologies

The next generation of nuclear technology is being developed now

The next generation of nuclear technology is being developed now

Leading the way in new nuclear technologies

The challenges of climate change and the aim to reduce CO2 emissions have led many governments to rethink their country’s energy mix. In many jurisdictions, new nuclear technologies will play a significant role in the transition to a low carbon economy. The transition will see the demand for electricity continue to grow (for example, thanks to the switch to electric vehicles) and so innovative, flexible nuclear reactor concepts are being developed to cope with future needs.

The nuclear technologies in development cover a wide range of new reactor types. These are generally smaller than those used in conventional nuclear power plants, thereby overcoming one of the major hurdles of building new capacity: cost and financing. What’s more, building on a smaller scale allows for more modular, off-site prefabrication so construction is quicker, easier, and more flexible.The new reactor types fall into one of two generations:

  • Many SMRs are smaller versions of existing nuclear power plants. They have a power capacity of up to 300 MWe, as opposed to 700+ MWe from a conventional, full-size reactor.
  • Advanced Modular Reactors – also referred to as generation IV reactors (AMRs), leverage innovative cooling systems or fuels. Generation IV nuclear reactor concepts have the potential to go beyond low-carbon energy generation to offer new applications. These include hydrogen or heat production, or waste reduction when they function in a waste burner to close the nuclear fuel waste cycle.

Micro and small-scale reactors

Next-generation reactors are being developed and built in many countries, including the USA, UK, Canada, and China. However, their small size and passive safety features (such as low-power and operating pressure) mean they are also of interest to countries with smaller grid capacities or those with no track record of nuclear power generation. What’s more, the lower costs of building and running a small modular reactor make them particularly attractive.

These reactors are modular in design, so they can be built in a factory and components transported then constructed in stages. Due to their size, they are ideal for small physical footprints and can easily fit onto brownfield sites such as decommissioned coal-fired power stations. And once they are up and running, small modular reactors need fewer staff for operation.

As well as augmenting the current energy mix across the grid, small modular reactors are also ideal for supplying reliable electricity to remote or off-grid, rural communities. Unlike larger nuclear power plants, smaller reactors can be built to size to exactly meet demand.


Advanced modular reactors

AMRs are currently being designed that will not only make nuclear power plants even less expensive but, thanks to the development of new reactor technologies and the use of new materials and manufacturing techniques, will close the nuclear fuel cycle and provide long-term waste solutions. They are characterized by their use of different coolants including helium, liquid metal, or molten salt as well as traditional water. What’s more, many AMR designs have the potential to deliver advantages beyond low-carbon electricity generation, such as hydrogen production or providing heat for industrial or domestic uses.

The AMRs currently being developed are significantly more fuel-efficient than many of today’s nuclear power plants. The aim is to design a system that is more competitive compared to current nuclear facilities and other means of electricity generation. As a result, there is no need to mine uranium for such reactors, as there are currently enough uranium isotopes in storage to keep the reactors fed.

The safety and security concerns over nuclear power in general have been addressed head-on in the design of Advanced Modular Reactors. In short, radioactive material cannot be released should an AMR plant fail or be subjected to an external event (such as an earthquake). And, as uranium and plutonium are never separated in the fuel cycle and only present when mixed with other materials, there is no potential to develop the nuclear material at hand.

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