Nuclear energy summit offers hope of global regulatory co-operation

Nuclear energy chiefs will have a chance to thrash out key industry issues and work towards developing common standards of licensing process at a major meeting in April, which will focus on promoting the use and future development of sustained and economical electricity generation.

By Antonia Stuart

The 5th Annual Small Modular Reactor Summit 2015 is being held from April 14-15 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event is set to examine the licensing, financing and economics of small modular reactors (SMRs), which are increasingly seen as the most promising viable alternative to hydrocarbons in energy production.

More than 30 countries are using nuclear energy for power production, with large plants that take years to build and with a distinct lack of standards between them all. A total of 435 civil nuclear power plants are in operation around the world, with 71 more currently being constructed. SMRs, which have a lower energy output – from 300 megawatts to as low as 30 megawatts – offer a more convenient alternative, and it is hoped that a global standard of design certification can be established in order to secure commercial deployment.

Nuclear energy is currently generating around 11% of global electricity, and unlike fossil fuels such as oil and coal, there are practically no emissions of the controversial greenhouse gases, which are being blamed on creating global warming and a marked change in climate patterns around the world.

Further enhancing nuclear energy's green credentials is the fact that one uranium fuel pellet contains the same amount of energy as 149 gallons of oil or 807 kilos of coal. Also in nuclear energy's favour are the long uptimes in generation, as plants can consistently maintain output over many months and without any disruptions.

The SMR is not a new technology, however. These smaller-type reactors, which are around one-third the size of a traditional nuclear plant, have been around for well over half a century and have typically been used in places of limited space; powering submarines, for instance, as well as aircraft carriers and even at universities. Their use is being seen as more critical to effective electricity generation around the world, given the decline in non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil and gas, along with the limited power output from other sources such as wind and solar.

Leading industry figures from major energy companies are due to attend the North Carolina summit, which will provide a platform for engaging with experts from around the world in roundtable sessions designed to unearth new opportunities for SMR deployments. It will explore the latest developments in the sector and examine what the expectations of international investors are, as well as appraising the various international markets, including those that are just now emerging and offering a range of possibilities.

The summit will seek to promote so-called "cathedral-style" thinking, which is working out the barriers to the widespread commercialisation of SMRs and looking ahead to possible stages of uptake and further development.

A spokesperson for the upcoming meeting said it presented a chance for those involved in the industry to come together and develop a wide-ranging strategy for the future deployment of SMRs as a leading way to generate electricity around the world.

"It’s critical that the nuclear industry convenes en mass to develop a comprehensive ‘cathedral style’, long-term approach to the future of nuclear energy around the world. SMRs represent the best possible opportunity to provide clean, safe and reliable energy to the masses, yet have been hindered by a lack of industry-wide focus on resolving the economics of nuclear power generation,” the spokesperson said.
“By providing a platform for the world’s most influential nuclear executives to meet and drive forward progress, we believe we can take the critical next steps towards design commercialization.”
With attendees from the US Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, IAEA, Exelon, PSEG, Fortum, EDF, Babcock & Wilcox, AREVA, KEPCO, Chinese National Nuclear Corporation, Rolls Royce and many more already confirmed, SMRs are primed to make significant strides in the right direction this spring.

To find out more about the 5th Annual Small Modular Reactor Summit 2015 and how to join it, please visit