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Nuclear power looks to shrink its way to success

New mini reactor designs offer lower cost and risk than conventional technology

Everything about nuclear energy seems terrifically big: the cost, construction and decommissioning — and the fears of something going badly wrong. The future, however, may well be much smaller. Dozens of companies are working on a new generation of reactors that, they promise, can deliver nuclear power at lower cost and reduced risk.

These small-scale plants will on average generate between 50MW and 300MW of power compared with the 1,000MW-plus from a conventional reactor. They will draw on modular manufacturing techniques that will reduce construction risk, which has plagued larger-scale projects.

Supporters believe these advanced modular reactors (AMRs) — most of which will not be commercial until the 2030s — are critical if atomic power is to compete against the rapidly falling costs of solar and wind. “The physics hasn’t changed. It’s about much cleverer design that offers much-needed flexibility in terms of operation,” said Tim Stone, long-term industry adviser and chairman of Nuclear Risk Insurers, which insures nuclear sites in the UK.


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