05/10/20 – Energy / Nuclear / Power / Modular Reactor / SMR / Fortum / MIT / Research

Fortum and MIT’s 3-year tie-up could help make small modular reactors a reality

European energy company Fortum and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have entered into a three-year co-operation project to create an open-source tool for the techno-economic modelling of small modular reactor (SMR) projects. Through the modelling work and the sensitivity analysis of the results, the two parties hope to generate greater understanding of SMR projects and characteristics.


There is currently strong interest in small and simpler units for generating electricity from nuclear power, and for process heat. Such interest in small and medium nuclear power reactors is driven both by a desire to reduce the impact of capital costs and to provide power away from large grid systems.


Current SMR designs in the industry feature many new and exciting innovations in the areas of manufacturing, siting and construction. And gaining a more in-depth understanding of these new features, alongside determining which ones are the most important to focus on, will be critical in ensuring the feasibility and success of such projects.


Driving the nuclear sector forward


Konsta Värri – Project Manager at Nasdaq Helsinki-listed company Fortum  – said the firm was “excited” to commence the SMR co-operation project with MIT, who he said have already done extensive work in identifying the cost drivers of new nuclear. “This is a great opportunity for our nuclear experts at Fortum and the researchers at MIT to learn from one another,” he remarked.


Mr Värri continued that his firm hoped that making the modelling tool open source would drive the nuclear sector forward and a step closer to making SMRs a reality. 


Exploring the relationship between risk and cost


Certainly, small reactor units are seen as a much more manageable investment than large ones whose cost often rivals the capitalisation of the utilities concerned. As a result, SMRs have the potential to reduce the risk to cost overruns by leveraging their smaller and simpler designs.

 

However, reducing risk alone is not enough and such units must still provide competitive cost to meet market demands,” noted Koroush Shirvan, Principal Investigator at MIT. “We hope to explore this relationship between risk and cost within our multidisciplinary team,” he said, adding that at MIT, the project would be performed in collaboration between researchers in nuclear science and engineering and the civil and environmental engineering departments. 


Supporting the need for affordable clean energy


Small modular reactors (SMRs) are defined as nuclear reactors generally 300MWe equivalent or less, designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction times.


SMR development is proceeding in Western countries with considerable private investment, including small companies. According to the World Nuclear Association, the involvement of these new investors indicates the profound shift currently taking place from government-led and -funded nuclear R&D to that led by the private sector and people with strong entrepreneurial goals, often linked to a social purpose. That purpose is often deployment of affordable clean energy, without carbon dioxide emissions.

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