December 11, 2020
The Belgian engineering company Tractebel today unveiled its vision for small modular reactors (SMR), in which it notes that Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Poland, the United Kingdom and the states United, among other countries, “expressed a clear desire to shape the future.” Its white paper, The rise of nuclear technology 2.0, is the result of three years of “deepening the promises” of this cutting-edge nuclear technology and investing thousands of engineering hours in technical due diligence and market research.
In January, Tractebel and the Finnish electricity company Fortum signed memoranda of understanding with Estonian Fermi Energia to cooperate on the study of the deployment of SMR in the Baltic country.
“The decarbonization of the electricity mix is what has attracted the most attention in the debate on energy transition. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg”, says Tractebel in the new report.
Citing data from the International Energy Agency, he noted that out of more than 116,000 TWh of total final energy consumption, electricity only constitutes 20%. This means that the energy transition consists of decarbonizing the entire economy, namely electricity, heat and transport.
“Given the technical limits of total electrification, each of these sectors will need a specific energy vector to be economically healthy: electrons to power our devices, steam to power industrial processes and molecules to cross continents. With renewables at the forefront, daunting challenges will arise from each of these three pathways. This is where small modular reactors come in, ”he says.
SMRs are not a one-size-fits-all product, but rather a business model for enabling the zero-carbon transition, the report says. This requires: load balancing capacities and energy storage at the GWh scale which promote the penetration of intermittent renewable energies; better size compatibility with market demand, alternative coolant and higher operating temperature that allow district heating, water desalination and demineralization; production of pink hydrogen (nuclear) which can be used as a raw material for the production of steel and fertilizer or as an intermediate for the synthesis of eMolecules (such as eKerozene) near CO2 deposits (such as those of the limestone industry).
With more than 70 concepts addressing various market segments, SMRs are creating “an uproar within the nuclear industry that has not been observed since its inception,” the report says.
“As in the 1950s, the success of an individual technology will be conditioned by more than mere technical merits. Designs deemed to be promising must also meet the appetite of the market and the requirements of industrial deliverability,” he says. .
“The first SMRs will be online in 2021, in China and Russia, and Western technologies will follow by 2027, in the United States and Canada. With full market deployment expected within 10 years, the time has come to move on to integrating SMRs into the design of tomorrow’s energy ecosystem. “
The advent of advanced reactors is not something that can simply be “decreed”, he says, but must be “built and maintained” over the years. In the meantime, extending the life of existing nuclear reactors – “by far the cheapest low-carbon alternative of all energy sources” – is the ideal way to maintain current expertise.
Tractebel says it aims to demonstrate the value of SMRs through “real world” industrial projects and looks forward to pilot project opportunities with interested parties.
The white paper was written by Anicet Touré, SMR product manager, Célestin Piette, innovation manager, and Philippe Monette, chief technologist.
Research and writing by World Nuclear News