Encouraging Nuclear Innovation: What Small Modular Reactors Can Learn from Nuclear Attack Submarine Development.
Paradis, Evan M.
- Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Abstract: Small modular reactors (SMR) represent the most recent innovation by nuclear engineering firms in the United States, and thus are the subject of a great deal of optimism within the industry. SMR units are advanced reactors (Generation III+ or IV) that are m... read moreiniaturized to a capacity less than 300 megawatts, that also feature enhanced siting flexibility, improved safety, advanced instrumentation, longer refueling intervals, and a shift to factory production. Nuclear power in the United States has struggled with diseconomies of scale as well as socio-political opposition in recent years, so much so that only two new site builds have been initiated since 1979. SMR is being touted as the answer to the woes of nuclear power, though even the best laid plans of SMR proponents leave many questions unanswered. The process of innovation in energy technologies faces systemic challenges, and policy interventions are needed for nascent developments like SMR to allow it to test the rigors of the commercial market. A potential model for SMR innovation to emulate is the success of a closely-related but often overlooked technology with strong energy-related ties: nuclear attack submarines. Naval Reactors has found tremendous innovation success through tightly knit networks of public-private partnerships that encourages the flow of information, funding, expertise, and a powerful safety culture to all participants. Additionally, nuclear submarine innovation had struggled with cost escalations similar to nuclear energy until a series of policy mechanisms were employed to stabilize submarine economics. The findings of this study point toward a potential model for the Department of Energy and the domestic nuclear industry to emulate in order to support innovation in nuclear energy technologies like SMR.read less