Several small modular reactor (SMR) designs emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s in response to lessons learned from the many technical and operational challenges of the large Generation II light-water reactors. After the accident at the Three Mile Island plant in 1979, an ensuing reactor redesign effort spawned the term “inherently safe” designs, which later evolved into “passively safe” terminology. Several new designs were engineered to be deliberately small in order to fully exploit the benefits of passive safety. Today, new SMR designs are emerging with a similar philosophy of offering highly robust and resilient designs with increased safety margins. Additionally, because these contemporary designs are being developed subsequent to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, they incorporate a number of intrinsic design features to further strengthen their safety and security. Several SMR designs are being developed in the United States spanning the full spectrum of reactor technologies, including water-, gas-, and liquid-metal-cooled ones. Despite a number of design differences, most of these designs share a common set of design principles to enhance plant safety and robustness, such as eliminating plant design vulnerabilities where possible, reducing accident probabilities, and mitigating accident consequences. An important consequence of the added resilience provided by these design approaches is that the individual reactor units and the entire plant should be able to survive a broader range of extreme conditions. This will enable them to not only ensure the safety of the general public but also help protect the investment of the owner and continued availability of the power-generating asset. Examples of typical SMR design features and their implications for improved plant safety are given for specific SMR designs being developed in the United States.

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