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Researchers warn mini-reactors linked with sites in Wales could produce more nuclear waste than convention reactors

31 May 2022 3 minute read
The decommissioned Wylfa nuclear power station on Anglesey. Photo by rodtuk is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

New research published this week has concluded that the new generation of small modular nuclear reactors currently in development could generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants.

Rolls-Royce has raised about £500m to develop its own Small Modular Reactors (SMR) in the UK, winning investment including £210m of taxpayer funding and money from the Qatar wealth fund.

Both Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in Wales have been discussed as possible sites for their reactors, following the UK Government’s backing for a string of new nuclear power plant in its recently published energy security strategy.

Rolls-Royce claims a single SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches and power approximately one million homes, with up to 90% of the plant built or assembled in factory conditions.

Cheaper

Industry analysts say these advanced modular designs will be cheaper and produce fewer radioactive by-products than conventional large-scale reactors but a new report from researchers at Stanford University and the University of British Columbia warns these new SMRs could produce significantly higher levels of radioactive waste.

“Our results show that most small modular reactor designs will actually increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal, by factors of 2 to 30 for the reactors in our case study,” said study lead author Lindsay Krall.

“These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”

The new study found that, because of their smaller size, small modular reactors will experience more neutron leakage than conventional reactors.

Radioactivity

“The more neutrons that are leaked, the greater the amount of radioactivity created by the activation process of neutrons,” said study co-author Rodney Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford.

“We found that small modular reactors will generate at least nine times more neutron-activated steel than conventional power plants.

“These radioactive materials have to be carefully managed prior to disposal, which will be expensive.”

Spent nuclear fuel

The study also found that the spent nuclear fuel from small modular reactors will be discharged in greater volumes per unit energy extracted and can be far more complex than the spent fuel discharged from existing power plants.

“Some small modular reactor designs call for chemically exotic fuels and coolants that can produce difficult-to-manage wastes for disposal,” said co-author Allison Macfarlane, professor and director of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia.

“Those exotic fuels and coolants may require costly chemical treatment prior to disposal.”

“The takeaway message for the industry and investors is that the back end of the fuel cycle may include hidden costs that must be addressed,” Macfarlane said.

“It’s in the best interest of the reactor designer and the regulator to understand the waste implications of these reactors.”

Last month a spokesman for the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said: “Small Modular Reactors offer exciting opportunities to cut costs and build more quickly, ensuring we can bring clean electricity to people’s homes and reduce our exposure to volatile gas prices.

“While Small Modular Reactors do not yet exist, countries across the world are racing to develop the technology. Rolls-Royce has confirmed SMRs will be available to the UK grid in the early 2030s and we are working to their timeline, having already committed £210m of government funding.”


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Androw Bennett
Androw Bennett
6 months ago

DON’T go down the nuclear route!

Renewables are the answer. People who describe wind turbines as “unsightly” need to understand that, if we don’t build wind farms, put solar panels on our roofs, insulate buildings and harness tidal power, future generations won’t have a world in which to live

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
6 months ago
Reply to  Androw Bennett

Up to our Senedd to look after our people, it’s primary task. This goes for our water and food resources, as well as our population density. How well do our people think they are doing?

Last edited 6 months ago by I.Humphrys
Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago

Our Gov need to resist attempts by Westminster to build these reactors in Cymru. Until they are proven to be safe, we need to avoid them. We should be pushing for the tidal option, given we have one of the highest tidal swings on the planet.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
6 months ago

Wonder why they want to situate them in Cymru?

cynan
cynan
6 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Agreed. They are not needed.

Rwe and EDF own fossil fuel power stations that are the legal property of Cymru.

We have to do nothing towards the inevitable increased need for electricity.

We are already cleverly sending our bin bags to the South East
.

Now they can generate our power for us.

We are better than having to lower ourselves to participating in UK energy policy.

Upon independence we will he a coal burning super economy.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
6 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

1). Because the land is cheap(er).
2). It is further away from English population centres in the South East of England. This is probably the most important factor, in the event of a nuclear accident it won’t be the English in the South East of England who get affected. This is why Sellafield was located in the North West of England instead of Surrey.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

I think we are heading to a place of regret. Where Wales will be the preferred dumping ground for Whitehall’s mini reactors , mass on & offshore wind farms, and we have no say or power to stop this Tory idiocracy plans. They will bypass our Senedd as done when Priti Patel trafficked 300 wartorn refugees to Pembrokeshire without Welsh Government or Pembrokeshire Council consultation. And why am I saying this you ask?. Well last year Boris Johnson’s government suggested choosing three sites in his newly captured North East England red wall constituencies to store any waste. And when locals… Read more »

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

You’re probably right about Johnson choosing to use Wales instead of NE England. His party’s never going to win an election of any kind in this country, so he has nothing to lose.

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