Date of Award

December 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

Committee Member

Lindsay Shuller-Nickles

Committee Member

Michael Carbajales-Dale

Committee Member

Timothy DeVol


In an ever-evolving energy market, it is vital that nuclear technology adapts to become more economically and environmentally feasible. The promising economics and flexibility of small modular reactors (SMRs) may make them the technology of the future for the nuclear industry, offering a simple solution to many of the problems that have plagued the industry in the last decade. Though the economics of SMRs is often a topic of discussion, it is also important to understand the environmental aspects of this technology when implemented in a U.S. market. A life cycle assessment (LCA) of small modular reactors using a U.S. nuclear fuel cycle has been performed to this end, taking care to use U.S. technologies and facilities in every stage of the assessment where possible. The resulting impacts per MWh of electricity produced were found to be 7.64 m3 for water depletion, 0.88 kg oil-eq for fossil depletion, 2.03 kg Fe-eq for metal depletion, 4.55 kg CO2-eq for climate change, 18.02 1,4-DB-eq for human toxicity, and 441.07 kBq 235U-eq for ionizing radiation. In terms of climate change, the results were found to be comparable to the 8.4 kg CO2-eq found by Carless et. al1 for the Westinghouse SMR and like the 3.89 kg CO2-eq found by adjusting the findings of the National Energy Technology Laboratory.2 Most of the climate change impact was found to be in the fuel processing stages, due to high electricity and fossil fuel demands, as well as in construction because of concrete production. These assumptions were verified by performing a sensitivity analysis on electricity source, mine types, transportation, and material disposition during decommissioning. By comparison to other energy generators, nuclear energy, in general, performs similarly to renewable resources with respect to climate change, and small modular reactors perform slightly better than their larger counterparts. These results aid in confirming the overall feasibility of small modular reactor technology in an energy market concerned with climate change impacts.



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