As part of the Government’s energy security strategy, the UK has favoured small modular reactors as a way to boost its homegrown energy generation. In April, the Government announced that it is investing £210million to help develop small modular reactors (SMRs), which are said to be much cheaper and easier to deploy than traditional nuclear power stations. However, a new study has found that SMRs will actually generate far more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants, and governments to spend large amounts to find a safe way to dispose of it.
Study lead author Lindsay Krall, a former MacArthur Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) said: “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.”
This study could have major implications for Rolls Royce, which is looking to develop its own SMR that can be easily mass-produced in factories.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Paul Dorfman, an associate Fellow at SPRU University of Sussex, who was not involved in the study said that the smaller the reactor is, the more neutron leakage would take place.
He said: “To cut to the chase, SMRs should without question be producing higher volumes [of waste] than normal reactors.
“It may well produce more high-level waste than conventional reactors, but will most definitely produce more low and intermediate waste than conventional reactors.
“And that’s important, those intermediate and low are huge waste streams.
“In terms of the Rolls Royce, it’s a slightly bigger design, there is no way you can call it an SMR.
“It would have fewer problems than the ones in the paper, but nevertheless, it would still produce more waste than a conventional reactor, whichever way you put it.”
High amounts of nuclear waste pose a major problem for countries as experts warn that the most potent forms of the spent reactor fuel may need to be safely stored for up to a million years for it to completely decay and be harmless.
Dr Dorfman said: “This is hugely problematic stuff that so far we don’t have a solution to.
“We have an idea, that we will dig a hole and stuff it down and place it, but that’s still an idea, and it’s an unproven idea basically.
“We don’t even have an agreement on where that hole will be, and there’s no way it will be built in the next 50-100 years, despite what the Government says.”
He added that low and intermediate forms of nuclear waste, which are likely to be released in abundance from various nuclear reactors, could pose a major problem as the UK is low on storage space of that kind of fuel.
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He continued: “Basically you’ve vast amounts of this stuff, and it’s incredibly costly.
“Intermediate is even worse because that stuff is pretty hot.
Dr Dorfman slammed Rolls Royce reactor design arguing that the UK Government will likely have to pay “hundreds of millions” in order to safely store the nuclear waste generated.
He added: “The Rolls Royce design is far from complete, it’s still in development.
“The Government has already put large amounts of money into the Rolls Royce design and there’s no question that because it’s still in development, Rolls Royce will be seeking very very future government subsidy funding.
“The Rolls Royce begging bowl will be out soon and they very likely to be asking UK Govt. for hundreds of millions for further development of their ‘not an SMR’”
Express.co.uk has reached out to Rolls Royce for a comment.