Nuclear power is poised to play an increasingly important role in emissions-free district heating, states a briefing from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which provides an overview of nuclear technologies that are commercially available now and expected to be in the near future.

Nuclear fusion reactor chamber. (Visual by Efman via Shutterstock)

Russia, Switzerland and Sweden have all had nuclear-fuelled district heating systems. Last year, China also began a trial of the country’s first commercial nuclear heating project, which provides heat to 700,000m2 of housing, the report says.

Several countries are pursuing small modular reactors (SMRs) for district heating. SMRs are nuclear reactors that typically produce up to 300MW of electric (900MW thermal) energy. They are scalable, versatile and suitable for diverse heat applications, the report suggests. Wide deployment is expected in the 2030s, it adds.

Larger nuclear plants have high upfront capital costs, with the required investment ranging from $5bn–$10bn, UNECE notes. However, SMRs offer cost-reduction pathways. Lower capital costs, shorter construction times and their modular make-up mean SMRs have lower investment risk and are easier to finance, the briefing concludes.

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