Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Small Modular Reactors: Report from U. of Chicago

Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami, nuclear power has been on the retreat worldwide. But such a reaction to Fukushima is irrational at best, and suicidal at worst. More rational and far-seeing persons are attempting to plan a safe route to the increased utilisation of nuclear power so as to allow advanced societies to create an abundant and innovative future.

The University of Chicago report: Small Modular Reactors -- Key to Future Nuclear Power Generation in the US (PDF) was released last week. The report presents a well-supported argument that small modular fission reactors represent the best route to revitalising the US nuclear power industry.
John Hamre, the President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies gave the introductory speech and focused on the possibility that smaller reactors, partially built in factory settings, might help to overcome two barriers to new nuclear plant construction.

Instead of requiring a per unit capital outlay on the order of $10 billion, which is a large portion of the total market capitalization of even the largest US electrical power utility companies, they could cost 1/10th that amount. Instead of requiring a 7-10 year planning and construction time delay, they might allow a more manageable 3-4 year planning and construction period once the designs are complete, the licenses have been obtained, and the factories start producing modules.

The researchers and the study sponsor made a conscious decision to design the study to be technology agnostic. The goal was not to determine the advantages or disadvantages of one particular design, but to determine if the economy of unit volume (mass manufacturing) could provide sufficient competitive advantages to overcome the economy of very large sizes.

The authors also made the decision not to compete smaller reactors against large ones, but to compete each type of reactor against natural gas. During several exchanges with the audience during and after the talk, the study authors emphasized that they thought that smaller reactors complimented large ones and opened additional markets that would not otherwise be accessible to nuclear energy solutions. _ANSNuclearCafe Rod Adams

Rod Adams also makes public an email debate between himself -- as nuclear advocate -- and Robert Bradley of Masterresource.org -- as a supporter of natural gas energy and power. Al Fin energy analysts feel that modern societies must make good use of all forms of viable and reliable energy -- including nuclear, natural gas, oil, bitumens, kerogens, methane hydrates, coal, etc.

It is a waste of time to debate whether gas is superior to nuclear or vice versa. Natural gas and oil -- both conventional and unconventional -- represent unavoidable bridges to a future era of post-combustion energy. Advanced nuclear power will become the main workhorses of human civilisational power supplies in the not too distant future, and will likely remain so for centuries at least.

Other forms of energy and fuels will still be used into the indefinite future, for a large number of reasons. But advanced nuclear energy -- eventually including fusion -- is the only known source of reliable power that can provide the practical energy and power densities to provide the energy foundation for long-lasting advanced civilisations.

81st Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers is hosted at Idaho Samizdat Nuclear Notes.

Updated Good News About Nuclear Energy is hosted at Cool Hand Nuke.

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