Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gas-Cooled Small Modular Reactors Overturn Conventional Limits

Small modular nuclear reactors will have a revolutionary effect on the future of electrical power generation. But a particular type of small modular reactor -- the gas-cooled reactor -- is destined to revolutionise all aspects of future energy and fuels.
First, let's look at small modular nuclear reactors:
SMRs have a number of advantages over conventional reactors. For one thing, SMRs are cheaper to construct and run. This makes them very attractive to poorer, energy-starved countries; small, growing communities that don't require a full-scale plant; and remote locations such as mines or desalination plants. Part of the reason for this is simply that the reactors are smaller. Another is that, not needing to be custom designed in each case, the reactors can standardized and some types built in factories that are able to employ economies of scale. The factory-built aspect is also important because a factory is more efficient than on-site construction by as much as eight to one in terms of building time. Factory construction also allows SMRs to be built, delivered to the site, and then returned to the factory for dismantling at the end of their service lives - eliminating a major problem with old conventional reactors, i.e. how to dispose of them.

SMRs also enjoy a good deal of design flexibility. Conventional reactors are usually cooled by water - a great deal of water - which means that the reactors need to be situated near rivers or coastlines. SMRs, on the other hand, can be cooled by air, gas, low-melting point metals or salt. This means that SMRs can be placed in remote, inland areas where it isn't possible to site conventional reactors. _David Szondy
It is easy to see why the scalable nature of SMRs allows them to fit a wide variety of energy markets. Better economies of scale and increased reliability are possible from precise factory controlled construction. But why do gas-cooled SMRs, in particular, promise such a revolutionary impact on the future of energy and fuels?

It comes down to the high quality, high temperature process heat that gas-cooled reactors provide. Here are some of the things that high quality process heat can do:
  1. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil sands (PDF)
  2. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in coal to liquids and gas to liquids (PDF)
  3. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil shale kerogens 
  4. Provide abundant industrial process heat for production of fertilisers, refining fuels, making plastics, etc 
  5. Split CO2 into CO to use as a hydrogen carrier 
  6. Overturn conventional fears of EROEI and Peak Oil 
One particular gas cooled modular reactor has been selected by the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Industry Alliance as the best design for the category:
The Alliance said that it had selected an unspecified Areva reactor concept, presumably based on the Antares design, "as the optimum design." It said, "The Areva HTGR technology's capability and modular design would support a broad range of market sectors, providing highly-efficient energy to industries such as electrical power generation, petrochemicals, non-conventional oil recovery and synthetic fuel production." Areva, it said, "has the technical and design capabilities to develop a HTGR for the process heat co-generation and generation markets."

It added that "additional investors are being pursued to fully capitalize a venture in order to build an initial fleet of HTGR plants for industry." The Alliance noted, "Deploying next generation nuclear technology is a critical step in solving the long-term needs for secure sources of energy, conserving fossil fuels and slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Clean, safe nuclear energy from HTGR would increase US energy independence and extend the life of domestic oil and natural gas resources." _WorldNuclearNews
More here

Perhaps a stimulus from the private sector will help to spur the revolution that the US federal government under Obama appears to be resisting with all its might. Regardless, it is critical for a wide range of intelligent people within various industries and sectors of the economy to understand the importance of this potential qualitative transition in possibilities for production of future energies and fuels.

Nuclear energy systems that utilise efficient fuel burn and recycling (with combined Gen III and Gen IV + reactor synergies) offer thousands of years of electrical power and optimised fuels production. Only rational nuclear energy possesses the energy density and massive fuel supplies to allow humans to transcend fears of energy scarcity in order to move into a future of relative abundance.

Cross-posted from Al Fin blog

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