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Anticipating Climate Mitigation: The Role of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

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Global warming is likely to force assertive redirection of global energy markets in order to achieve a prudent standard of mitigation; the resulting process of energy transformation will fundamentally alter prevailing policies and institutional relationships. Efficiency gains and renewable technologies—wind, solar, and biomass—will presumably make substantial contributions, as will carbon sequestration to some extent. But at the moment it seems quite apparent that global mitigation cannot be achieved without a very substantial expansion of nuclear power generation. While current light water reactor technology will likely play a role, this paper argues that smaller modular reactors (SMRs) of innovative design, with innovative institutional arrangements, could contribute to meeting energy demands in a more safe and secure manner. Though many SMR designs are currently being developed, it is doubtful that any of them will be brought to the point of serial production by their current developers under currently projected market conditions. Completed prototype development would almost certainly have to be a public sector initiative undertaken in support of eventual mitigation. This paper explores the potential of developing international structures whereby multiple states and entities could develop several SMR prototypes and serial manufacturing hubs. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor development process could prove to be a useful analogue to the arrangements necessary to support such large-scale SMR development and deployment.

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