France considers developing mini nuclear reactors, eyes cost

PARIS, March 15 (Reuters) - The French nuclear industry is considering developing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), but will have to ensure these miniaturised generators are not only technically feasible but also financially viable, executives said.

EDF-owned Framatome, formerly called Areva, builds the world’s largest nuclear reactor model - the 1,650-megawatt EPR - but is now also conducting research into small 150- to 170-MW reactors with state nuclear agency CEA.

“In France we have always preferred big-capacity reactors ... but we need to also consider smaller models,” said Xavier Ursat, EDF’s head of new nuclear, at an innovation seminar organised by French nuclear industry lobby SFEN.

SFEN says small reactors could be suitable for countries, regions or islands that are isolated from the main regional power grids and could also be useful for urban heating networks or seawater desalination.

CEA head of nuclear energy François Gauché said the agency would study the technical and financial feasibility of SMRs in the coming 18 months.

He said some organisations - notably NuScale, majority-owned by U.S. Fluor Corp - had submitted SMR models to their nuclear regulators for design approval.

Philippe Knoche, chief executive of French nuclear fuel group Orano, said factory production - as opposed to construction on-site for big reactors - could lower the cost of SMRs, making them competitive if manufacturers built dozens.

Critics say SMR economies of scale will be limited because each reactor will need its own control and safety systems. They also point at the danger of spreading radioactive material more widely, increasing radiation and security risks.

The British government said in December it would provide funding for research into mini nuclear plants. Rolls-Royce is part of a consortium of UK firms developing SMR technology.

Link: Nuclear developers have big plans for pint-sized power plants in UK (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Dale Hudson)