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Small nuclear project pipeline grows by over 65%

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The number of planned small nuclear projects grew significantly over the last three years, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Companies and countries are turning to nuclear as a crucial carbon-free form of reliable power.

Catch up fast: Small modular reactors, or SMRs, can be built in factories and delivered to the project area quickly. In addition to speed, SMRs are meant to avoid the hefty cost overruns weighing on large nuclear.

Yes, but: There are currently no SMR projects that are operational. None are under construction, nor are any in advanced development phase.

  • The sole projects in the development phase are in Canada from Ontario Power Generation and in Tennessee with TVA at its Clinch River site.
  • The vast majority of the SMR projects are in the announced or pre-development phase.
  • The canceled NuScale deal in November, which was going to be the first SMR in the U.S., was a blow to the sector.

Zoom in: The number of announced small modular nuclear projects hit 22 GW globally in the first quarter of 2024, up more than 65% from the 13 GW of capacity at the end of 2021, according to report by Wood Mackenzie.

  • That growth is being driven by supportive policies, particularly in Canada and the U.S., and growing interest in net zero power by both utilities and industrial companies like steel makers.
  • Long queues for transmission lines for solar and wind are also making next-gen nuclear an interesting option.
  • Data center operators like Amazon and Microsoft have increasingly been looking at nuclear.

Reality check: Sneaky costs have stymied deployment.

  • Developers need to work on the cost structure of SMR projects and make them "as predictable as possible," says David Brown, Wood Mac's director, Energy Transition Practice.
  • Construction costs have soared in recent years, partly due to inflation. Construction costs for the NuScale projects climbed from $5.3 billion to $9.3 billion.
  • Wood Mac says $176 billion will be required to get the current 22 GW of small modular reactor projects deployed.

What's next: While Canada and the U.S. remain the leaders in SMR projects, other European countries will likely be building SMR projects as well to meet net-zero goals.

  • We'll be watching to see if a data center operator signs an offtake agreement for an SMR project.
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