Small Modular Reactor: Spiral organized two participatory workshops with nuclear experts dedicated to social aspects of this new technology


Last October, two Spiral researchers -Dr. Mathias Sabbe and PhD student Hélène Dodion - successfully led two participatory workshops with nuclear experts in Milan (October 24-25, 2023). The workshops focused on the nuclear expert’s expectations for this new technology and the publics integration in their R&D project.


What do nuclear experts expect from the Small Modular Reactor?

During the first workshop, Dr. Sabbe presented the preliminary results of 25 semi-structured interviews conducted with nuclear experts (ESFR-SIMPLE project partners). The presentation focused on their perceptions and expectations about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and ESFR-SIMPLE developments. Results covered the (perceived) opportunities brought by SMRs for future energy systems, the expected costs, and safety advantages or shortcomings associated with such systems. During the workshop, nuclear experts also discussed several issues raised by research results, such as the forecasting of future SMR demand and the added-value of sodium-fast SMR systems (such as ESFR-SIMPLE) in comparison to other SMR systems.


How do the experts envision the integration of publics in their project development?

In a second workshop dedicated to “public perceptions”, Dr. Sabbe presented the analysis results regarding interviewees’ perceptions of the public(s) and their attitudes towards nuclear energy. Workshop participants then engaged in subgroup and plenary discussions to identify with which public(s), for which reason(s), and how to discuss the public perceptions of a sodium-fast SMR system. Participants notably insisted on the necessity to engage with younger generations (school and university students), the general public, and decision-makers. Improving the communication between the sodium-fast research community and the media, through the involvement of journalists with higher technical and scientific nuclear expertise, was pinpointed as one of the main priorities. While most participants agreed on the main target public categories and the required steps to engage with these publics, there were still some uncertainties as to how concretely implement these steps.


What is ESFR SIMPLE project?

The ESFR-SIMPLE project aims to develop a novel Small Modular Reactor (SMR) version of the ESFR-SMART reactor. The ULiège is conducting an in-depth qualitative study on project partners’ and the public(s)’ perceptions and expectations regarding the ESFR-SIMPLE SMR. The aim of this research is to provide practical recommendations for achieving societal and environmental goals through a better understanding of each other’s expectations regarding ESFR-SIMPLE technology developments.

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