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The importance of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are an alternative to traditional nuclear plants. They offer a more cost-effective way to bring nuclear power to the world, avoiding some of the pitfalls of full-size, custom-built nuclear reactors.

In many ways, they share technologies similar to those of the small reactors currently powering nuclear navy ships. More recently, the technology has developed to use SMRs for general energy production. Currently, the only SMRs in operation are in China and Russia; they only went live in 2023.

However, if correctly utilised, SMRs could offer a wide range of applications and uses for various projects worldwide.

What are SMRs

“SMR” means Small Modular Reactor, and they are a type of nuclear reactor. In this context, and according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Small” means a power capacity of up to 300 MW(e) per unit. “Modular” means they are manufactured off-site, in a factor, and then shipped to the location of the plant for installation.

This is different from full-size nuclear reactors found in traditional nuclear power stations, which are custom-built based on the needs of the project and the unique environmental considerations.

Benefits of SMRs

Size and scalability

Due to their smaller size, SMRs are more easily manufactured, transported, and installed, making them suitable for use in a wider range of areas and for a wider range of applications.

Safety features

SMRs often come with incorporated safety features, such as:

  • Seismic and natural disaster resistance
  • Remote operation
  • Containment systems
  • Passive safety systems


As their name suggests, Small Modular Reactors are designed for high modularity. This means that the SMRs can be manufactured in smaller, standardised modules, and then assembled where required. Ultimately, this makes the reactor easier and faster to construct, as well as making maintenance and upkeep much easier.

Flexibility and grid integration

Due to their smaller size, SMRs can be used effectively for localised power generation. This makes them a more viable option for locations with limited electrical access.

Cost and economics

Thanks to their shorter construction time and standardised manufacturing process, SMRs have the potential to be much more cost-effective for investors by reducing financial risk and lowering upfront capital costs.

Role of SMRs in decarbonisation

Generally, nuclear reactors are regarded as a low-carbon source of electricity generation. They do not emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Thanks to the improved cost-efficiency and convenience of SMRs compared to traditional reactors, SMRs could help transition to increased use of nuclear power and away from fossil fuels, leading to a lower-carbon future.

The future of SMRs

The future of SMRs holds promise for countries seeking secure energy, decarbonisation, and sustainable development. Not only can SMRs be diversely applied to a wide range of projects, but they can also be easily integrated with the power grid for an overall seamless integration.

Currently, there are nearly 100 SMR designs in development worldwide. SMR designs in development in 2024, source World Nuclear Association

Source: World Nuclear Association

Types of heat exchangers used in SMRs

There is a wide range of heat exchanger types that can be used with an SMR. Some possible heat exchanger types that could be suitable for use with an SMR include, shell and tube, Closed-Air Circuit Water-cooled (CACW) coolers, Closed-Air Circuit Air-cooled (CACA) coolers, and air-cooled gas coolers.

Ultimately, the type of heat exchanger you choose to use in your SMR design depends on the specific application and the details of the power plant where the SMRs will be used. A designer and manufacturer of bespoke heat exchangers, like Sterling Thermal Technology, can help you choose the right configuration, materials, and size of heat exchanger for your budget.

Heat exchangers for the nuclear sector from Sterling TT

At Sterling TT, we pride ourselves on offering only high-quality equipment for a wide range of applications. If you’re looking for a heat exchanger that is robust and easy to maintain, get in touch with our team of experts today.

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