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The nuclear energy sector is actively developing a new class of very small advanced reactors, called microreactors. This technology has disruptive potential as an alternative to carbon-intensive energy technologies based on its mobility and transportability, resilience, and independence from the grid, as well as its capacity for long refueling intervals and low-carbon emissions. Microreactors may extend nuclear energy to a new set of international customers, many of which are located where energy is at a price premium and/or limited to fossil sources. Developers are creating designs geared toward factory production where quality and costs may be optimized. This paper reviews the existing literature on the technology, potential markets, economic viability, and regulatory and institutional challenges of nuclear microreactors. The technological characteristics are reviewed to describe the wide range of microreactor designs and to distinguish them from large nuclear power plants and small modular reactor (SMR) designs.

The expanding literature on the cost competitiveness of SMRs relative to other nuclear and nonnuclear technologies is also reviewed, with an emphasis on understanding the challenges of making microreactors economically viable. A major part of this study focuses on the deployment potential of microreactors across global markets. Previous work on SMR market assessment is reviewed, and the adaptation of these studies to the deployment of microreactors is more fully examined. Characteristics that differentiate microreactors from SMRs and other energy technologies may make microreactors suitable for unique and localized applications if they can be economically competitive with other energy technologies, as well as meet regulatory and other societal requirements. Recent research on global markets for microreactors is evaluated and extended in this paper to a previously unevaluated use case in which microreactors can play a role in grid resiliency and integration with renewables. Further challenges associated with the commercialization of microreactors, in addition to cost competitiveness, are explored by examining the regulatory and safety challenges of microreactor deployment.

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