Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Small Nuke Reactor Submits Plan to NRC

Oregon State University's Nuclear Energy Institute has designed a new small-scale (45 MW) modular nuclear reactor to be built and fueled at the factory, and shipped by rail to the generating plant. It is designed for loads equivalent to 45,000 US homes, including small towns and large installations such as military bases, large factory complexes or multi-factory industrial parks.
Interest in minireactors has grown over the past few years, according to Felix Killar at the Nuclear Energy Institute. “They're simple and robust, with safety features to allow a country without nuclear expertise to gradually put in small plants, and get people trained and familiar with them before moving into more complex plants.” But small-scale plants could prove useful in the United States, too, particularly in areas where residents must now rely on diesel generators for electricity. Toshiba is reportedly working on a small-scale design for Galena, Alaska. But NuScale Power, the startup spun from Oregon State, is the first American company to submit plans to the NRC, which regulates all domestic nuclear power plants.

The plant's design is similar to that of a Generation III+ “light water” reactor, but the size is unusual. “The whole thing is 65 ft. long,” explains Jose Reyes, head of the nuclear engineering department at Oregon State and a co-founder of NuScale Power. The reactor unit of NuScale's containment unit is 14 ft., compared to a Westinghouse AP1000, a standard current design, which is about 120 ft. in diameter. It has to be built and serviced on-site, but NuScale's units could be manufactured at the factory, then shipped on a rail car or heavy truck to any location and returned for refueling.

As in modern reactors, the containment shell acts as a heat exchanger, Reyes explains. The water closest to the core is vented into the outer shell as steam, where it condenses and drips into the cooling pool, which is recirculated to cool the core. The whole unit sits below grade, without telltale cooling towers. The reactor doesn't use pumps to circulate the water if the unit overheats, which means it needs no external power to cool down. That's a “passive safety” feature that protects the unit from electrical sabotage.

The new unit can be manufactured cheaply, with standard turbines from General Electric, for example, rather than custom-made parts. Because the steel reactor vessel is only 9 ft. in diameter, it can be made entirely in the U.S., rather than relying on Japan Steel Works, the only manufacturer who can cast today's one-piece, 25-ft.-plus reactor vessels. _PopMech

This design will be competing with modular gas-cooled designs. Newer generation designs incorporate more "passive safety" features, meant to make the smaller plants more foolproof.

The US Navy has a long history of small nuclear reactor safety and efficacy. It is past time for the civilian energy sector to demonstrate that it can match the Navy's record.



Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

I wonder if they could overcome the NIMBY effect by offering those willing to live nearby a break on property and/or income tax. I would do it.

6:36 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

With some of the buried small modular reactors, you would hardly know they were there. The radioactive materials would be inaccessible, even to on-site maintenance. All the processing, fueling, and re-fueling take place at the factory.

Of course we are not dealing with rational arguments here. We are dealing with emotions stoked by political lobbyists and ideologically biased media journalists.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

"With some of the buried small modular reactors, you would hardly know they were there."

So I guess my cunning plan to get out of paying taxes by living next to a source of cheap energy is not going to pan out. Maybe I can get convince the government to let me not pay taxes by living next to a source of cheap beer.

9:19 AM  

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