Delivering Next Generation Nuclear Power


The Project Management Challenge Remains



By Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC

Florida, USA

Global events are reshaping energy flows and driving a rethink of what the future power fleet will look like in the short, medium, and longer term. Interest in renewables has strengthened in response to both the challenges to traditional energy supplies as well as decarbonization efforts to address global climate[1] change. Hydrogen as a fuel, ultimately dependent on a strong nuclear generation component, has gained traction with major projects focused on its transport and storage.

Significantly, the waning interest in nuclear has been reversed with new projects being considered even in countries which had written it off as a future source just a few years ago. Today there is growing recognition that nuclear must be a significant part of the future power fleet, especially as interest in hydrogen grows.

Nuclear technology and solutions have advanced significantly over the last decade, spurred on by the 2011 events at Fukushima. Among these advances has been the development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that address the loss of power, safe shutdown and other concerns that were underscored at Fukushima. Additionally, SMRs represent the continued shift in complex projects to greater modularity, standardization, and off-site construction, capturing the benefits of a manufacturing environment. A first such SMR has received design approval from regulators in the US.

The focus of this advisory article is to begin to explore the project management challenges that SMR deployment will have to address if it is to avoid the spiraling costs and schedules of the last generation of nuclear power plants. It draws on my experience at the outset of my career on the design and licensing of a standardized nuclear power plant driven by many of the same concerns that today’s SMRs seek to address. It further draws on my experience in troubleshooting underperforming large complex projects including more recent forensic analysis of a significant nuclear project that was ultimately abandoned.

The advice that follows is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to call out some of the top-of-mind project management challenges that will have to be met more successfully than we have done in the past.

Defining the SMR team

The delivery of an SMR will require the tight integration of several entities. The nature of the relationships may vary but the inherent capabilities and respective responsibilities will be present irrespective of contractual and organizational relationships. For purposes of this advisory article, they are defined as:

    • SMR vendor
    • Balance of Plant (BOP) contractor
    • Systems Integrator
    • Program Manager
    • Owner
    • Regulator
    • Stakeholders

SMR Delivery – A Systems[2] Engineering Challenge

SMRs, like all large complex projects, requires a systems engineering mindset[3] [4] in order to address inherent complexity[5] and the inevitable emergence associated with such projects. This is an area where the project management profession must do better and expand its systems, processes, tools and most importantly, training. A key component of the systems engineering mindset as it relates to SMR delivery is systems integration.

SMR’s will require comprehensive systems integration with this taking on even greater importance in the initial implementations where emergence is all but ensured. Systems integration is an essential element in delivery of large complex projects and one which has challenged many nuclear projects in the most recent period. While I have shown this as a separate function in the preceding section, it is most assuredly not so. The function must be an integral role to one of the major project delivery organizations.

There are in reality only three candidates for providing systems integration on a SMR project:


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How to cite this work: Prieto, R. (2022). Delivering Next Generation Nuclear Power: The Project Management Challenge Remains, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/pmwj119-Jul2022-Prieto-Delivering-Next-Generation-Nuclear-Power.pdf

About the Author

Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC
Jupiter, Florida, USA


Bob Prieto is a senior executive effective in shaping and executing business strategy and a recognized leader within the infrastructure, engineering, and construction industries. Currently Bob heads his own management consulting practice, Strategic Program Management LLC. He previously served as a senior vice president of Fluor, one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. He focuses on the development and delivery of large, complex projects worldwide and consults with owners across all market sectors in the development of programmatic delivery strategies. He is author of nine books including “Strategic Program Management”, “The Giga Factor: Program Management in the Engineering and Construction Industry”, “Application of Life Cycle Analysis in the Capital Assets Industry”, “Capital Efficiency: Pull All the Levers” and, most recently, “Theory of Management of Large Complex Projects” published by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) as well as over 800 other papers and presentations.

Bob is an Independent Member of the Shareholder Committee of Mott MacDonald and a member of the board of Dar al Riyadh. He is a member of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council, National Academy of Construction, a Fellow of the Construction Management Association of America, and member of several university departmental and campus advisory boards. Bob served until 2006 as a U.S. presidential appointee to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), working with U.S. and Asia-Pacific business leaders to shape the framework for trade and economic growth. He is a member of the Millennium Challenge Corporation advisory board where he had previously served. He had previously served as both as Chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and co-chair of the infrastructure task force formed after September 11th by the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as Chairman at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) and a non-executive director of Cardno (ASX).

Bob serves as an honorary global advisor for the PM World Journal and Library and can be contacted at rpstrategic@comcast.net.

To view other works by Bob Prieto, visit his author showcase page in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/bob-prieto/


[1] Prieto, R. (2021). Reversing Global Warming, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March. https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Prieto-Reversing-Global-Warming.pdf

[2] Prieto, R. (2020) Systems Nature of Large Complex Programs; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VIII, August https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/pmwj96-Aug2020-Prieto-Systems-Nature-of-Large-Complex-Programs.pdf

[3] Prieto, R. (2020). Application of Systems Lifecycle Processes to Large, Complex Engineering and Construction Programs; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue X, October https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/pmwj98-Oct2020-Prieto-Application-of-Systems-Lifecycle-Processes-to-Large-complex-programs.pdf

[4] Prieto, R. (2020). Systems Nature of Large Complex Programs; PM World Journal, Vol IX, Issue VIII, August. https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/pmwj96-Aug2020-Prieto-Systems-Nature-of-Large-Complex-Programs.pdf

[5] Prieto, R. (2017), Complexity in Large Engineering & Construction Programs, PM World Journal, Vol. VI, Issue XI, November. https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/pmwj64-Nov2017-Prieto-complexity-in-large-engineering-construction-programs.pdf