To facilitate the use of nuclear energy globally, small modular reactors (SMRs) may represent a viable alternative or complement to large reactor designs. One potential benefit is that SMRs could allow for more proliferation resistant designs, manufacturing arrangements, and fuel-cycle practices at widespread deployment. However, there is limited work evaluating the proliferation resistance of SMRs, and existing proliferation assessment approaches are not well suited for these novel arrangements. Here, we conduct an expert elicitation of the relative proliferation resistance of scenarios for future nuclear energy deployment driven by Generation III+ light-water reactors, fast reactors, or SMRs. Specifically, we construct the scenarios to investigate relevant technical and institutional features that are postulated to enhance the proliferation resistance of SMRs. The experts do not consistently judge the scenario with SMRs to have greater overall proliferation resistance than scenarios that rely on conventional nuclear energy generation options. Further, the experts disagreed on whether incorporating a long-lifetime sealed core into an SMR design would strengthen or weaken proliferation resistance. However, regardless of the type of reactor, the experts judged that proliferation resistance would be enhanced by improving international safeguards and operating several multinational fuel-cycle facilities rather than supporting many more national facilities.
Author(s): Xu Chunyang