Could small nuclear reactors be the future of energy?

Small modular reactors could make nuclear power much more common. NuScale Power is the first company to have its SMR design approved by the US government.

Marta Franco Senior Producer / CNET
Marta is a multimedia journalist and a CNET video producer. After years of writing for the press in Spain, she moved to San Francisco to specialize in video and photography. Based on the East Coast now, she enjoys reading, watching movies, rollerskating, or just having a good meal, an interesting conversation, or a simple stroll under the sun.
Marta Franco
2 min read

Small modular reactors could be the answer to years of decline in the nuclear power industry.  

An SMR is generally defined as an advanced reactor that produces up to 300 megawatts per module. They can be deployed alone or as part of a plant with several modules, and are designed to be built in factories and shipped to their final destination, then installed, rather than built from the ground up like traditional power plants. 

Right now there are around 50 designs and concepts for this kind of technology globally, including several in the US. NuScale Power is the first company to receive design approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Its modules are 76 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter, and can generate 77 megawatts of electricity. 

That's much smaller than the usual gigawatt-sized nuclear facilities, which are more cost-effective for big markets, but this scalable model can be deployed in a much faster and cheaper way. Some places don't have the grid or the capital to support a traditional nuclear plant, and a small reactor may make sense in smaller or more remote areas that want a dedicated power supply that is not run off fossil fuel. Power generation from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas has contributed significantly to human-induced climate change.

NuScale is looking at 2029 to see its first SMR power plant in operation, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as part of the Carbon Free Power Project, which is led by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. The company is in conversations with other authorities and possible customers around the world.