10 Mar 2021, 13:25
Kerstine Appunn

Small modular reactors not the solution – German nuclear authority assessments

Süddeutsche Zeitung

Using a large fleet of small modular reactors (SMR) to secure climate neutral electricity supply in the future - as proposed by billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates - poses many unsolved problems and security risks, two researcher assessments commissioned by the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) have found according to a report by Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). SMR proponents claim that, once produced in bulk, these small plants are cheaper and safer thanks to advanced reactor designs and can be operated with converted short-lived radioactive materials, solving the waste problem. But the two reports, seen by SZ, conclude that SMR “carry enormous risks with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and will probably never be as cheap as their advocates claim”, Michael Bauchmüller writes.

The paper by the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut) found that in order to replace the 400 or so large reactors today, "many thousands to tens of thousands of SMR plants" would have to be built. But this raises questions for proliferation, the spread of dangerous nuclear material.

The second assessment by researchers from the Institute for Safety and Risk Sciences, at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, on nuclear waste aspects of SMR found in three scenarios that a repository for nuclear waste would remain necessary, and that the amount of low and medium level radioactive waste would increase “massively” during the dismantling of nuclear facilities.

Germany will shut down its last nuclear power plant by the end of 2022, according to the government’s phase-out legislation which is supported by a majority of the population. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima ten years ago, Angela Merkel’s government decided to accelerate the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany where opposition to nuclear plants was one of the key causes leading to the founding of the country’s Green Party. Nuclear power is compensated for by expanding renewable sources wind, solar PV and biogas, as Germany strives for a climate neutral power supply by 2040 or 2050 at the latest. 

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