Advancements in Nuclear Energy Technology (Small Modular Reactors)

SMRs are used to decrease capital costs and help economies with series production and short construction times. They are designed with module factory fabrication and generally use less than 300 MWe.

Advancements in Nuclear Energy Technology (Small Modular Reactors)

Dr. Raj Shah, Mr. Andrew Kim, Mr. Nikhil Pai | Koehler Instrument Company

Nuclear energy technology is technology involving nuclear reactions with atomic nuclei [1]. These atomic nuclei split up into different sections called gastric feeds which break, explode, and make nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is on the rise due to the transition of cleaner ways of producing power. Nuclear energy also is a form of energy released from the nucleus made of protons and electrons [2]. This source of energy in today’s world is produced through fission – when nuclei of atom split into different nuclei and creates energy. Although wide-scale nuclear technology has been successful in creating efficient nuclear reactors and plants, in today’s world small modular reactors (SMRs) are mainly used due to their efficiency, simplistic solutions, and security. 


Why is nuclear energy on the rise?

Nuclear energy is an emissions-free energy source that can support transition to cleaner ways of producing power, which also include wind and solar energy [3]. Nuclear power, like clean hydrogen, can provide reliable backup power to overcome issues associated with wind and solar energy. Secondly, because of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, countries are seeking for greater energy independence. Nuclear offers a stable source of power not depending on imported fossil fuels. Thirdly, technology is being built to produce smaller reactors that are safer, cheaper to operate and make, and easier/more convenient to build. Fourthly, they are safer and less exposed to dangers like earthquakes and meltdowns than traditional large scale modular reactors (LMRs). Fifthly, like all nuclear plants, they don’t emit greenhouse gases (emit less wastes). Lastly, they can be safely turned off and restarted, unlike LMRs.


What’s special about SMRs?

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear fission reactors and are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors. SMRs are used to decrease capital costs and help economies with series production and short construction times. They are designed with module factory fabrication and generally use less than 300 MWe [4]. They also have about a third of generating capacity of traditional large scale nuclear reactors and can produce a large amount of low-carbon electricity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency [3]. As well as costing less and being quicker to build, they generate less toxic waste. Microreactors are even smaller than SMRs and have about 30 times less power generating capacity. Small modular reactors require less fuel than older reactors, with most needing refueling only every 3-7 years. The smaller size allows them to be ideal for smaller electric grids (compared to LMRs) offering flexibility to scale production as demand changes.  Reasons for interest in SMRs are the following: 

1) They can readily slot into brownfield sites in place of coal fired plants

Brownfield sites are the sites that reuse hazardous substance, pollutants, or contaminants

2) deploy affordable clean energy, without carbon dioxide emissions

Some emissions include fuel combustion activity, industrial and natural gas processing

3) have greater simplicity of design

Examples include reactors, heat removal, and combustion activities

4) has economies of series production largely in factories

Series production is the production of a batch of products, after which production stops

5) have short construction times

The difference in construction times on average between LMRs and SMRs is six years


SMRs also allow for the exclusion of heat removal, as needed in large reactors, and allow for more inclusion of safety. Although licensing may be a challenge to SMRs because LMRs essentially contain the same operation costs, there is an enormous potential of SMRs. These include factors such as: 1) Because of their small size, SMRs could be built in factories which improves construction efficiency and quality, 2) their passive safety features lend them to areas of less nuclear power, 3) their construction efficiency and series production methods lead to less financing (reduce costs) [4]. Features of an SMR according to the World Nuclear Association include:

  • Small power, compact architecture, and employment of passive concepts, thus leading to less reliance on pumps, safety systems, and AC power

  • The clustered architecture allows for flexibility of manufacturing, allowing for facilitation of higher quality standards

  • Has lower power than LMRs allowing for less radioactive inventory

  • Potential for underground location of reactor providing more protection

  • The small-scale to large-scale design allows multiple units on same site

  • Lower conditions to access cool water sources: SMRs are suitable for remote regions

  • When dead, it can remove reactor module

The International Atomic Agent Agency has a program that captures multitasking integral steam generators with small light water reactors. Being published in 2003, it was made known that these reactors didn’t use as much coolants as previous modular reactors. These SMRs require fuel enrichment, of what is needed is 20% of Uranium-235 [3]. The US Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) commented the only supply for fuel for advanced reactors would be enriched uranium. However, Urenco USA is ready to supply HALEU from a production line in a New Mexico plant. 


Advanced SMRs

The Advanced SMR R&D program was made in 2019 and supports research and development of activities to accelerate the availability of US-based SMR tech into domestic and worldwide markets. However, significant licensing risks remain in bringing advanced SMR designs to market and with the help of the government domestic SMRs will be deployed by 2030 [5]. With the department of R&D program partnering with NuScale power they demonstrate the first reactor technology at the Idaho National Laboratory this decade. Through these efforts, the department provides vast benefits to other domestic reactor developers by solving many SMR licensing problems, while promoting US energy, the energy dominion effect and assuring there is a supply of reliable and clean baseload power. 

Figure 1: NuPower Reactor Building containing main components of the drywell (evaporates water; shown in middle), wetwell (pulls in water; shown in bottom middle), and pressure vessels (holds nuclear fuel and prevents spread of radioactive material; shown in bottom middle right) [5].


U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced SMRs

A funding opportunity was issued by the department to drive a high potential for improvement in the finance of nuclear power plants. This opportunity provided the steps to develop next-generation reaction designs, including SMRs. Solicits activities involved developing systems, structures, and controllable components which addressed regulatory-systematic issues [5]. Again, this opportunity is tailored to address the progress of advanced reactors. 


Rolls Royce SMRs

Rolls Royce (RR) SMR Ltd has designed a factory built near nuclear power plant that will offer clean, affordable energy for all. The SMR business is one of the ways this company is ensuring the UK attacks the global threats of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. With the new RR technology, cost competitive and scalable net-zero power can be delivered through a clean energy source. 

There are four successes for SMRs [6]:

  1. Low cost and construction time

  2. Deliverable

  3. Global and scalable

  4. Investable


  1. Low cost

Global challenges can be met in a cost-efficient and investable (money-gaining) way. RR SMR can deliver a fully integrated, factory built nuclear power plant through its cost-effective energy plan, using commercially available technology. NuScale claims an SMR can be built for $3000 per kilowatt, no nuclear plant has been built that cheaply; they also claim that constructing an SMR will take less than 36 months, no nuclear plant has ever been built that fast [7].


  1. Deliverable

RR will focus on commercially available and off-the-shelf components by using the UK supply chain which contributes to more than 80% of each SMR by value [6]. RR will make predictable factory-built commodities from the original nature of high cost and high-risk construction principles. About 90% of assembly activities are carried out in factories, helping to maintain high-quality product, reducing on-site disruption and supporting international roll out. 

A picture containing indoorDescription automatically generated

Figure 2: A pickup-delivery site for SMRs [6].


  1. Global and scalable

As countries look for ways to provide net zero waste, clean energy has been the solution. SMRs have been designed to counter the global issues and RR’s ambitions are set to match the global market. The factory built in system is entirely scalable. As demand increases, more factories are invested upon using original design and management systems for all RR’s SMRs. 

The RR’s SMR program is forecast to create 40,000 UK regional jobs by 2050 and generate £52bn in economic benefit [6].

The compact footprint helps replace existing coal or gas-fired plants and increases/maximizes potential plant locations. 

SMRs use smarter, cleaner and safer energy. 


This flexible design can support desalination, provide highly reliable power to mission critical facilities, integrate with renewables resources, and serve as clean baseload power.


The innovative, efficient design has created a power source as clean as wind or solar energy (100% carbon free).


Should it be necessary, SMRs shutdown and self-cool for an indefinite period of time without help from AC, coolers, or water sources.


  1. Investable 

RR’s SMRs are focused on the financial aspect to support build up of SMRs worldwide. With a proven factory built commoditized approach, these SMRs will grant customers access to several capital options for their SMR purchase. 

For nuclear energy to be significant in creating a net-zero power, it must be able to not depend on the government since the government does not fund any renewable energy firms. 

“A RR’s SMR power station will have capacity to generate 470MW of low carbons energy, equivalent to more than 150 onshore wind turbines” [6]. It will help launch renewable generation of low carbon energy and can last 60 years. 

In addition to stable base load power, these SMRs can provide green hydrogen and synthetic fuels to support decarbonization. 

It will also occupy 1/10 of LMR sites, helping to reduce environmental impacts [6]. These SMRs are also factory built and can be transported by fast moving transportation methods like train, airplane, or barge which helps reduce vehicle movements and malfunctions.  

A single Rolls-Royce SMR power station can power approximately one million homes and only occupy two football pitches. It can also support on and off-grid electricity energy sources, enabling vast decarbonization of industries and enabling new fuels like sustainable aviation fuels and green hydrogen to allow transition into the transportation sectors. In summary, RR’s plan on creating new and efficient SMRs take way into better lighting, electricity, and are the most efficient/environmentally friendly source of nuclear power. 


5.  Advanced Small Reactor Designs to watch in 2030

TerraPower and X-energy are aggressively working with their teams to plan for and ultimately deliver operational reactors within the next seven years. And, although these designs may be further along in the technology development process, domestic vendors need additional financial support to mature their designs. 

Many companies do not have access to the infrastructure, facility, and computer models needed to gather the data to prove that the NRC that these reactors work as designed. 

To help lower this technology development risk, has awarded $50 million to five US teams to address the licensing challenges they are currently facing [8]. The goal is to help prepare for eventual deployment and future demonstrations. 

Here is a look at five US designs [8]:

  1. BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor

BWX Technologies is developing a transportable microreactor that can thrive in off-grid applications and remote areas to produce 50 megawatts of thermal energy for deployment in the early 2030’s [8]. The high-temperature gas reactor uses a different form of fuel that contains kernel for higher activity. The team will also cut price of microreactors in half / develop stepstones that benefit other advanced reactor designs.

  1. eVinci Microreactor 

Westinghouse Electric Company is also pursuing the development of a transportable microreactor on site in less than 30 days. The 15-megawatt thermal reactor utilizes TRISO fuel to operate on grid or remote locations [8]. The company will work with corporations to test components. This short-term project supports the effort from Westinghouse to install a prototypic reactor by 2024. 

  1. Hermes Power Reactor

Kairos will work with INL, ORNL, and Electric Power Research Institute to deploy a low power reactor- Hermes. Hermes is a key milestone in the company’s rapid iterative development process with little to way. This reactor will also use Triso fuel and achieve a thermal power of 35 MW [8]. Ultimately, Hermes delivers low-cost nuclear heat and could be operational by 2026. 

  1. Holtec SMR-160 Reactor

Holtec is partnering with many different corporations to complete the early-stage research of advanced light-water small reactors. The electric design allows it to be deployed in the most arid weather conditions. Holtec has excellent manufacturing programs online and can fabricate the majority of the components in the US. They plan to demonstrate the reactor at the Oyster Creek site in New England, following the decommissioning of that nuclear plant. 

  1. Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment 

Southern Company is looking to build a small reactor experiment based on TerraPower’s molten chloride fast technology. This technology can be scaled up to be used in the grid and could flexibly operate on multiple fuels. Southern Company will work with TerraPower and other labs to build the first fast-spectrum salt reactor. This technology can be used for thermal storage by it releasing heat so rapidly and efficiently allowing it to process enormous amounts of electricity and heat. This molten chloride reactor experiment will inform the design of a licensing/operational demonstration reactor and is expected to be on grounds within five years [8].



Future use of SMRs will be greatly dependent on the cost, efficiency, and backup power it has. All three of these components look like a go currently, substituting themselves for LMRs. Usage of LMRs cause greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel burning, and power (electricity and heat) outages. Currently, industrial-dense countries that do not have hydropower (most of England) or a reliable/sustainable energy system need SMRs to maintain a high quality of life. Additionally, nowadays there are more usage areas and development of better safety conditions for SMRs (for example, no input is required). In smaller countries, SMRs are seen as a better opportunity for creating a better energy mix. For example, take Estonia, a country with a 1.3 million population and has little to no debt and a market economy focus on IT. This country is the perfect place to start SMRs due to the potential of becoming a significant positive effect on the country’s climate impact (as the country is now dependent on burning shale oil, increasing carbon dioxide). As demand for electricity and less greenhouse gases are skyrocketing with advanced technology and energy usage, SMRs provide highly efficient energy, low costs to use and manufacture, and most importantly helps make the world become a safer/cleaner place to do everyday activities. 




About Authors
Dr. Raj Shah is a Director at Koehler Instrument Company in New York, where he has worked for the last 27 years. He is an elected Fellow by his peers at IChemE, CMI, STLE, AIC, NLGI, INSTMC, Institute of Physics, The Energy Institute and The Royal Society of Chemistry. An ASTM Eagle award recipient, Dr. Shah recently coedited the bestseller, “Fuels and Lubricants handbook”, details of which are available at ASTM’s Long-Awaited Fuels and Lubricants Handbook 2nd Edition Now Available ( He earned his doctorate in Chemical Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and is a Fellow from The Chartered Management Institute, London. Dr. Shah is also a Chartered Scientist with the Science Council, a Chartered Petroleum Engineer with the Energy Institute and a Chartered Engineer with the Engineering council, UK. Dr. Shah was recently granted the honourific of “Eminent engineer” with Tau beta Pi, the largest engineering society in the USA. He is on the Advisory board of directors at Farmingdale university (Mechanical Technology ) , Auburn Univ 

( Tribology ), SUNY, Farmingdale, (Engineering Management)  and State university of NY, Stony Brook ( Chemical engineering/ Material Science and engineering). An Adjunct Professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, in the Department of Material Science and Chemical engineering, Raj also has over 550 publications and has been active in the energy industry for over 3 decades. More information on Raj can be found at

Mr. Andrew Kim and Mr. Yogesh Pai are part of a thriving internship program at Koehler Instrument company. Mr Kim is a student of chemical engineering at State University of New York, Stony Brook, where Dr. Shah currently heads the External advisory board of directors and Mr. Pia is currently an engineering student at University of Texas, Austin. 



[1] Carpenter, Mary. “Advancing Nuclear Technologies.” Nuclear Energy Institute, NEI, 30 Sept. 2021

[2] Galindo, Andrea. “What Is Nuclear Energy? The Science of Nuclear Power.” IAEA, IAEA, 31 Aug. 2022

[3] Wood, Johnny. “Small Reactors Could Make Nuclear Energy Big Again. How Do They Work, and Are They Safe?” World Economic Forum, World Economic Forum, 6 Oct. 2022

[4] “Small Nuclear Power Reactors.” Small Nuclear Power Reactors – World Nuclear Association, World Nuclear Association, May 2022

[5] Power, NuScale. “Advanced Small Modular Reactors (Smrs).”, 2020

[6] “Small Modular Reactors.” Small Modular Reactors, Rolls Royce, 7 Sept. 2022

[7] Wamsted, Dennis. “IEEFA U.S.: Small Modular Reactor ‘Too Late, Too Expensive, Too Risky and Too Uncertain.’” IEEFA, IEEFA, 17 Feb. 2022

[8] Caponiti, Alice. “5 Advanced Reactor Designs to Watch in 2030.”, Office of Nuclear Energy, 17 Mar. 2021


The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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