The “Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future” (NICE Future) is an international collaboration under CEM that envisions a world in which nuclear energy innovation plays a key role and advances clean energy goals. At CEM10, the NICE Future initiative will be releasing a book, Breakthroughs: Nuclear Innovation in a Clean Energy System, that tells the stories of the people and the solutions that are driving near-term innovation in nuclear energy. Its goal is to generate excitement and create ideas about what nuclear energy’s role can be in clean energy systems of the future.

Here is an excerpt from the book on Small Modular Reactors — the next wave of innovation in nuclear technology.

Small Modular Reactors

A building block of clean energy systems

Telephones used to be just for talking. Now they’re for texting, shopping, keeping track of today’s calorie burn and settling arguments over who played R2D2 in the first “Star Wars” movie. Nuclear reactors are ready to take on new roles, too.

Ever since the first commercial nuclear plant opened in 1958, reactors have fit one mold: big machines for producing baseload (around-the-clock) electricity.

But a new generation of reactors could make a familiar technology much more flexible and useful, just as the smartphone did to the telephone.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have the potential to radically change not only how we make electricity but also how we make chemicals and plastics, how we integrate wind and solar into energy grids and, indeed, how we live and interact with the infrastructure that produces our power.

They can be manufactured in a factory, one after the other, the way that airplanes or ships are — with all the economies of assembly-line production this offers — instead of being constructed on site, as is currently the case.

SMRs are designed for a modern grid, where demand can vary sharply over the course of a day. Some SMRs can switch between electricity production and other uses.

This isn’t science fiction. SMRs are being deployed for delivery of electricity in some countries already and are near deployment for other, newer applications around the globe. SMRs are real. They are happening. And they offer a versatility and utility that doesn’t just play by the rules — it promises to change the game altogether.