Infrastructure, Energy & MaterialsJune 12, 2020

The Transformative Power of Small Modular Reactors

Electricity suppliers need to adapt quickly as new competitors and technological innovation…
Avatar Irina SELEDKOVA

Electricity suppliers need to adapt quickly as new competitors and technological innovation bring enhanced products and services to market. Global demand for electricity is expected to rise by more than 3,000 GWe by 2040, and as new environmental regulations drive down dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear power plants are a key to meeting that need.

A more agile power grid, including renewable energies, is emerging to meet the needs of developed and expanding economies and to reduce emissions of CO2 into the environment – and nuclear power will become part of that agile landscape. But this is a 70-year-old industry. Having established itself over the past decades as a clean, reliable, and economical source of electricity, it now faces the challenge of meeting growing demand for flexibility with an aging workforce and an infrastructure that will be costly to replace or upgrade. As the industry looks to transform, small modular reactors (SMRs) provide one more way to achieve new levels of safety, agility, scalability and efficiency.

A fresh approach

SMRs offer some unique benefits over conventional nuclear reactors for today’s markets. Until now, nuclear power has been based on huge economies of scale. Traditional reactors can take decades – and huge investment – to develop, and their lifelong profitability has depended on building increasingly large infrastructures, on time and on budget. Because SMRs are designed to be prefabricated and quickly built, they don’t need a big infrastructure or major capital investment per project. In addition, the proven technology these designs use makes them an acceptable-risk venture for public companies and private investors backing their development.

SMR research and development projects are building momentum around the world, highlighting their potential to transform the industry. In 2019 the world’s first completed SMR – two barge-mounted reactors onboard Akademik Lomonosov – began providing electricity for the coastal town of Pevek in Russia. Meanwhile Rolls-Royce is leading a joint venture to deliver a first-of-a-kind SMR in the UK. The company has also joined forces with Turkey’s state-owned electricity generation company EUAS to evaluate the possibility of building SMRs in Turkey.

Powering remote locations

Work in Canada points to the potential of SMRs as a more cost-effective and sustainable way to provide reliable long-term power for remote industrial sites and communities – bringing added opportunities to benefit society. When Natural Resources Canada worked with government bodies and power utilities to create a roadmap for SMRs in the country, the project identified that SMRs could be a natural fit for mines, which traditionally rely on expensive diesel fuel to power remote operations. But they could also be shared to provide reliable power for the small communities that support those operations, whether they already existed or were built by the mining company.

A model for SMR success

SMRs offer great potential as a way to transform and revitalize the energy industry. They involve a diverse range of technologies. If these small reactors are to deliver on their economic promise and optimize competitive advantage, it’s essential to develop them using an engineering, manufacturing, installation and operations methodology that unifies all the stakeholders involved.

Model-based system engineering (MBSE) is key. This innovative, interdisciplinary way of working focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their entire life cycle. By investing more time in defining the system goals and functions, engineering can then work in a more efficient and collaborative manner with less iteration across disciplines, better leveraging advanced multidisciplinary capabilities offered by digital modeling and simulation. As a result, MBSE enables streamlined processes and optimal productivity, leading to more efficient program costs and safe operations.

Using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to integrate data and methods across disciplines and organizations, teams across the ecosystem can collaborate using a virtual representation of the reactor to better understand and optimize its behaviors across its lifecycle. This ensures that SMRs efficiently comply with local regulatory requirements, while delivering the expected economic performance.

Dassault Systèmes is helping power generation companies to transform from traditional, discipline-centered ways of working to a multidisciplinary MBSE approach.

Visit to find out more about our work in the industry.

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