Small modular reactors (SMRs) sited 100 to 300 meters deep in underground chambers constructed in bedrock having favorable geotechnical properties could be both cost effective and provide superior levels of safety and physical security. The bedrock adjacent to and enclosing the reactor chamber would become the functional equivalent of a conventional containment structure, but one with increased margins of safety for design-basis accidents, reduced risks for beyond-design-basis accidents, and a high level of inherent physical protection against external threats. In addition, seismic safety could be enhanced at lower cost because seismic waves are generally attenuated with depth in bedrock. Nominal steel and concrete around the reactor would be required as would sealing of tunnels and other penetrations into the reactor chamber. Nonetheless, the net result in capital cost savings could potentially more than offset the cost of underground excavation. For a hypothetical granitic bedrock site with SMRs at a nominal depth of 100 meters, preliminary excavation cost estimates for single- and four-unit installations constructed by drill-and-blast range from around $90 million to $45 million per reactor, respectively, and for a twelve-unit installation constructed by tunnel boring machine from $25 to $15 million per reactor. Specialized applications for bedrock-sited SMRs include collocation at underground hydropower stations, test and demonstration facility for prototype SMR designs, and deployments in regions at risk of terrorist or military attack.

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