ForTheDoers BlogA stronger role for small nuclear reactors in the future energy system
Small modular reactors – nuclear power’s new flexible generation
Nuclear power is a future energy form that is constantly developing, and small modular reactors are an example of the latest innovations in the sector. In the long-term, small modular reactors can be an efficient tool in combating climate change and in bringing the needed flexibility to electricity production for the increasingly electrifying society.
300 MW nuclear power plant
Power output of big reactors in Finland is ~500-900 MW
High safety standards
Technology and safety requirements similar to those of big plants
Cost and resource efficiency
Serial production and short construction and deployment times
Nuclear power plants with a power output of less than 300 MW are called small modular reactors. They differ from big plants not only by their lower power output but also because they can be serially produced. Small modular reactors can generate carbon-free energy more efficiently, more flexibly, and at a lower cost.
As an emission-free and reliable energy form, nuclear power has an important role in our vision to build a cleaner world. We at Fortum see small modular reactors as a part of the future of nuclear power, and we are actively working on their research and development. Even though the discussion and research around the topic is lively, the full-scale deployment of small modular reactors requires international development and collaboration between the different actors.
Frequently asked questions about small modular reactors
What is a small modular reactor?
Small modular reactors are a new kind of nuclear power plant under development. Nuclear power plants with a power output of under 300 MW are often called small modular reactors. Both Loviisa reactors, for instance, have a power output of over 500 MW each, and the Olkiluoto reactors close to 900 MW. The smaller capacity, however, doesn’t affect the quality of the plant: in terms of technology and safety requirements, small modular reactors are comparable to big nuclear power plants – and both produce electricity stably and with no carbon dioxide emissions.
Moreover, small modular reactors can be serially produced, i.e. they are installed from prefabricated modules rather than building them on-site.
What are the advantages of small modular reactors?
The advantages of small modular reactors are better adjustability, standardised solutions, advanced prefabrication, faster deployment, the potential for more diverse use, and cost-efficiency.
Standardised solutions and serial production enable significant cost- and time-savings. These savings are realised when multiple power plants are made.
Small modular reactors can bring new solutions also for district heating production. Because of their smaller output, they potentially could be located closer to urban areas – while complying with the sector’s high safety standards. Small modular reactors can also help the sector to achieve carbon-neutrality and to advance the realisation of the hydrogen economy.
Are small modular reactors safe?
The same level of safety required of the existing big plants is also required of small modular reactors.
When will small modular reactors be deployed?
The current country-specific differences in the regulatory requirements for plant licensing impact the deployment of small modular reactors. Prefabrication in a factory requires standardised structures and systems. In order for the same solution to be used in different countries, either the regulatory requirements have to be standardised or the solution approved in one country must be applicable also in another country.
From the technology and legislative perspective, the first small modular reactors could potentially be in production use in Finland in about 10-15 years. In order for Finland to be a frontrunner in small modular reactors, a lot of work needs to be done.
However, there are currently multiple small modular reactor development projects well under way around the world, and the first prototype plants are close to deployment or have already been deployed. The most advanced projects right now are in China, Russia, and the United States. A significant state-driven small modular reactor project is under way in Canada.
How is Fortum investing in small modular reactors?
Leveraging the opportunities of small modular reactors still requires close collaboration at a national and international level between plant suppliers, energy producers and authorities.
We at Fortum are continuously developing our own expertise and tools for small reactor plant simulations, for instance. We see small modular reactors as part of a nuclear power future, and we are actively monitoring related international developments. We are involved in various international projects to help accelerate the development of and the opportunities to utilise small modular reactors.
We launched a feasibility study on new nuclear in late 2022 to explore the prerequisites both conventional nuclear reactors and small modular reactors in Finland and Sweden. The two-year study will investigate commercial, economical and societal questions related to new nuclear projects.