An assessment report prepared by the Sustainable Economics and Finance Research Association (SEFiA) reveals that small nuclear reactors (SMRs), recently touted as an important tool to combat climate change, are not a reliable and cost-effective solution.

In its report “Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)”, SEFiA examines the claims that SMRs, which are described as an alternative tool in the fight against the climate crisis, are modular, safe, flexible and economical. It emphasizes that SMRs lag behind low-cost and already commercially proven renewable sources such as wind and solar in enabling an energy transition in line with climate targets. 

Underlining that emissions need to be reduced very rapidly by 2030 in order to meet the globally agreed 1.5 degrees Celsius target, the report states that despite their long history, SMRs have still not become commercially and efficiently operational and widespread. The report reveals that only two SMRs have been made operational in the world to date and that many projects have been canceled over the years for technical and economic reasons, so the claimed advantages of SMRs have not been tested. The highlights of the report’s analysis of SMRs are as follows:

SMRs are not a reliable and cost-effective solution

  • SMRs further complicate the existing radioactive waste problem: SMRs produce 30 times longer-lived and 35 times more low- to intermediate-level radioactive waste than conventional reactors. They use radioactively decayable, fissile materials, not natural and recyclable ones. Studies show that SMRs’ long-term radioactive waste generation lags behind conventional reactors in terms of management requirements and disposal options.
  • Neither now nor in the future, SMRs are economically competitive with wind and solar: An April 2023 levelized cost analysis (lifetime cost/energy production) estimates the cost per unit of energy for conventional nuclear power plants at $141-221/MWh, compared to $24-$75/MWh and $24-96/MWh for wind and solar, respectively. Reactors in the NuScale project in the US are projected to cost $58/MWh per unit of energy by 2029. In contrast, the cost of other renewable energy solutions both declines over time and remains very low compared to NuScale reactors.
  • SMRs have long construction times and high costs: The operating costs of SMR plants are high due to their lower thermal efficiency compared to conventional nuclear reactors, and many reactors are being shut down because they are not generating the expected profit.It is also argued that producing lower volumes of electricity would generate less revenue and construction costs would be much higher.Because of this economic disadvantage, SMRs are shut down before they become operational and cannot be commercialized.Of the more than 70 initiatives under development around the world, almost all are in the design phase.

Taylan Kurt, one of the authors of the analysis, reminds that the National Energy Plan aims to increase the total installed nuclear capacity in Turkey from 4.8 GW to 7.2 GW by 2035 and continues as follows: “Since the announcement of the National Energy Plan, both the public and private sectors have been making statements supporting the installation of SMRs.The goal is to supplement the existing nuclear capacity with SMRs in order to end dependence on foreign energy.However, the latest scientific research shows that SMR projects are not a reliable and cost-effective solution to the climate crisis.”

Bengisu Özenç, Director of SEFiA, said, “Turkey, which is lagging behind in the construction of nuclear capacity and intends to make a rapid breakthrough, is considered an important market by the nuclear industry. The Medium Term Program announced in early September and the 12th Development Plan recently submitted to parliament, which outlines Turkey’s development perspective until 2028, include nuclear power plants and SMR initiatives as additional capacity among balance of payments measures and measures to diversify energy sources. At this point, it is necessary to emphasize the drawbacks of including SMR technology, whose costs and security risks are obvious, in the energy capacity in such an ambitious way, especially considering that it will increase Turkey’s dependence on foreign energy.”