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Title: Development of the Mathematics of Learning Curve Models for Evaluating Small Modular Reactor Economics

The cost of nuclear power is a straightforward yet complicated topic. It is straightforward in that the cost of nuclear power is a function of the cost to build the nuclear power plant, the cost to operate and maintain it, and the cost to provide fuel for it. It is complicated in that some of those costs are not necessarily known, introducing uncertainty into the analysis. For large light water reactor (LWR)-based nuclear power plants, the uncertainty is mainly contained within the cost of construction. The typical costs of operations and maintenance (O&M), as well as fuel, are well known based on the current fleet of LWRs. However, the last currently operating reactor to come online was Watts Bar 1 in May 1996; thus, the expected construction costs for gigawatt (GW)-class reactors in the United States are based on information nearly two decades old. Extrapolating construction, O&M, and fuel costs from GW-class LWRs to LWR-based small modular reactors (SMRs) introduces even more complication. The per-installed-kilowatt construction costs for SMRs are likely to be higher than those for the GW-class reactors based on the property of the economy of scale. Generally speaking, the economy of scale is the tendency for overallmore » costs to increase slower than the overall production capacity. For power plants, this means that doubling the power production capacity would be expected to cost less than twice as much. Applying this property in the opposite direction, halving the power production capacity would be expected to cost more than half as much. This can potentially make the SMRs less competitive in the electricity market against the GW-class reactors, as well as against other power sources such as natural gas and subsidized renewables. One factor that can potentially aid the SMRs in achieving economic competitiveness is an economy of numbers, as opposed to the economy of scale, associated with learning curves. The basic concept of the learning curve is that the more a new process is repeated, the more efficient the process can be made. Assuming that efficiency directly relates to cost means that the more a new process is repeated successfully and efficiently, the less costly the process can be made. This factor ties directly into the factory fabrication and modularization aspect of the SMR paradigm—manufacturing serial, standardized, identical components for use in nuclear power plants can allow the SMR industry to use the learning curves to predict and optimize deployment costs.« less
  1. ORNL
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
R&D Project: RC0116000; 35301471 (internal account number)
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Nuclear Energy (NE), Fuel Cycle Technologies (NE-5)
Country of Publication:
United States
small modular reactors (SMRs)