Wednesday, November 21, 2012

US DOE to Promote Small Modular Reactor Development

The US Department of Energy has chosen an early recipient of funding for small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) development. The consortium consisting of Babcock & Wilcox, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Bechtel Intl., will receive a dollar for dollar cost match in funding to develop a prototype SMR.

Largely in the background, both the US DOE and the US Defense Department are promoting development of more scalable nuclear reactor designs. Now, if only the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission would move away from the stonewalling posture toward new nuclear plants it has adopted during the Obama administration, the US nuclear power industry might be able to begin building a long term and highly scalable versatile infrastructure of nuclear power & heat.
The idea behind small reactors is that they could be built in a factory that would allow for lower costs through serial production, if not actual mass production. Factory fabrication would also make quality control easier. The reactor would be shipped by barge or rail car, and modules could be added as demand grew.

Small reactors could be easier to cool if an accident occurred. And some analysts say that they could make good export products for use in countries with weak grids that would be destabilized by huge reactors.

A major hurdle for new models is obtaining a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that presents a chicken-and-egg problem for would-be manufacturers. They would find it hard to sell a new model before it is licensed but would be reluctant to spend the tens of millions of dollars necessary to get a license before orders have been placed. One of the purposes of the Energy Department aid is to make the licensing process less onerous. _NYT
More from the DOE news announcement:
Small modular reactors - which are approximately one-third the size of current nuclear power plants - have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits. Small modular reactors can also be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival, reducing both capital costs and construction times. The smaller size also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.

As this nascent industry continues to grow, the Energy Department is committed to supporting research and development that will advance efficient, safe and cost-effective small modular reactor technologies. The Department plans to issue a new funding opportunity announcement to address this goal and support continued design development and certification of innovative SMR technologies. _USDOE
The ability to scale the power plant to meet particular needs, is an important advantage of modular reactors. Smaller required investments and more rapid installations will also be of benefit to buyers.

The Energy Department investment will help B&W obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing and achieve commercial operations by 2022—helping to provide US utilities with low carbon energy options as well as create important export opportunities for the United States. The project will be based in Tennessee and will support additional suppliers and operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. _GCC



Blogger Unknown said...

Uh, seems like only yesterday Al Fin engineers were gettin' swoony about thorium & fluoride salts. But DOE apparently is hanging in there mit der U-stoff. Any word recently about the Th-stoff?


6:35 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

There is a big universe out there, where a lot of different groups are taking many different approaches to nuclear power.

No one wants to see all the eggs risked within one basket.

The US DOE is very conservative when it comes to nuclear -- although more adventurous than the US NRC. The US DOD is most adventurous of all, and may pursue a number of approaches both overtly and covertly.

There is plenty of uranium for tens of thousands of years if it is used efficiently in advanced reactors.

But some countries have a lot of thorium and not much uranium. It makes sense for them to try to use what they have.

7:07 AM  

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