Small modular reactors (SMRs) may offer potential benefits relative to large light water reactors, such as enhanced flexibility in deployment and operation. However, it is vital to understand the holistic impact of SMRs on nuclear fuel cycle performance. The focus of this paper is the fuel cycle impacts of light water SMRs in a once-through fuel cycle with low-enriched uranium fuel. A key objective of this paper is to describe preliminary neutronics and fuel cycle analyses conducted in support of the US Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, Fuel Cycle Options Campaign. The hypothetical light water SMR example case considered in these preliminary scoping studies is a “cartridge type” one-batch core with slightly less than 5.0% enrichment. The high-level issues identified and preliminary scoping calculations in this paper are intended to inform decision makers regarding potential fuel cycle impacts of one-batch thermal-spectrum SMRs. In particular, this paper highlights the impact of increased neutron leakage and a reduced number of batches on the achievable burnup of the reactor. Fuel cycle performance metrics for the simplified example SMR analyzed herein are compared with those for a conventional three-batch light water reactor (LWR) in the following areas: nuclear waste management, environmental impact, and resource utilization. The metrics performance for such an SMR is degraded for the mass of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste disposed of per energy generated, mass of depleted uranium disposed of per energy generated, land use per energy generated, and carbon emissions per energy generated. Finally, it is noted that the features of some SMR designs impact three main aspects of fuel cycle performance: (1) small cores, which mean high leakage (there is a radial and an axial component); (2) a heterogeneous core and extensive use of control rods and burnable poisons; and (3) single-batch cores. But not all SMR designs have all of these traits. The approach used in this study is an example bounding case, and not all SMRs may be impacted to the same extent.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nuclear Energy and Engineering