10.2.1 – why small is NOT beautiful!

So there are a host of practical factors in favour smaller reactors. But what’s the down side? Firstly, economies of scale. With a small reactor, we have all the excess baggage that comes with each power station, all the fixed costs and a much smaller pay-off. As I noted earlier, even thought many smaller reactors are a lot safer than large LWR’s (even a small LWR is somewhat safer!) you would still need to put them under a containment dome. It’s this process of concrete pouring that is often a bottle neck in nuclear reactor construction. We could get around the problem by clustering reactors together, i.e putting 2 or 4 reactors not only on the same site but under the same containment dome. The one downside here is that if one reactor has a problem, it will likely spread to its neighbours. How much of a showstopper this fact is depends on which type of reactors we are discussing.

A proposed modular reactor design with four 250 MWth reactors within the same containment building working a shared pair of turbines to produce 500 MWe

Also, in the shorter term small reactors would be slower to build, especially many of those we’ve been discussing, given that they are often made out of non-standard materials. Only a few facilities in the world could build them as the entire nuclear manufacturing industry is currently geared towards large LWR’s. Turning that juggernaut around would take decades. So by opting for small reactors while we’d get safer more flexible reactors, we be paying for it, as these reactors would be slower to build and probably more expensive too.

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