A setback for nuclear power: Study finds small modular reactors are problematic
- September 1, 2022: Vol. 9, Number 8

A setback for nuclear power: Study finds small modular reactors are problematic

by Mike Consol

Just when it looked as though nuclear energy revival was gaining significant support, research by Stanford and the University of British Columbia has found that small modular reactors — which have been touted as the future of nuclear power — generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuke plants. Add to that estimates that new modular plants could cost tens of billions of dollars, and you can almost hear the energy running out of the atom.

A Stanford News report quoted study lead author Lindsay Krall saying, “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. These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”

The report comes as a blow to nuclear energy companies that have been designing and promoting small modular reactors as a cheaper and safer alternative to traditional generating stations.

About 440 nuclear reactors operate globally, providing about 10 percent of the world’s electricity. In the United States, 93 nuclear reactors generate nearly one-fifth of the country’s electricity supply. Because they emit very little carbon dioxide, nuclear plants have increasingly been seen as a partial solution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate change.

But, as the study points out, nuclear energy is not risk free. In the United States alone, commercial nuclear power plants have produced more than 88,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, as well as substantial volumes of intermediate- and low-level radioactive waste. The most highly radioactive waste, mainly spent fuel, will have to be isolated in deep-mined geologic repositories for hundreds of thousands of years. At present, the United States has no program to develop a geologic repository, after spending decades and billions of dollars on the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. As a result, spent nuclear fuel is currently stored in pools or in dry casks at reactor sites, accumulating at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons per year.

“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,” said co-author Allison Macfarlane of the University of British Columbia. “It’s in the best interest of the reactor designer and the regulator to understand the waste implications of these reactors.”


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter (@mikeconsol) and LinkedIn ( to read his latest postings. Information for this article was excerpted from a Stanford News report that can be read at this link:

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