It seems as if nuclear fans in Australia have given up on conventional Generation III/III+ reactors such as the Westinghouse AP1000 and Areva EPR: unsurprising in view of the massive cost overruns and delays experienced in attempts to construct them.
They’ve also gone quiet on the prospect of more advanced “Generation IV” reactors. Again that’s unsurprising. Most of the leading research projects in this field have been abandoned or deferred past 2030, even for prototypes.
The great hope now is for Small Modular Reactors, which will, it is hoped, be assembled on site from parts built in factories. The idea is that the savings in construction will offset the loss of the scale economies inherent in having a larger reactor (arising ultimately from the fact that the volume of a sphere grows faster than its surface area).
Lots of SMR ideas have been proposed, but the only one with any serious prospect of entering commercial use is that proposed by NuScale, with funding from the US Department of Energy. NuScale has recently claimed that it should have its first reactor (consisting of 12 modules) in operation by 2027.
A couple of observations on this. First, when the project was funded back in 2014 the proposed start date was 2023. So, in the course of five years, the target time to completion has been reduced from nine years to eight. That suggests the 2027 target is pretty optimistic.
Second, NuScale isn’t actually going to build the factory that is the key selling point of the SMR idea. The press release says that the parts will be made by BWX, formerly Babcock and Wilcox (who abandoned their own SMR proposal around the time NuScale got funded).
So, is BWX going to build a factory, or is this going to be a bespoke job using existing plants (presumably much more expensive). I went to their website to find out. But far from getting a clear answer, I could find no mention at all of a deal with NuScale, or of any recent activity around SMRs.
So, there you have it. Australia’s proposed nuclear strategy rests on a non-existent plant to be manufactured by a company that apparently knows nothing about it.