Tuesday, November 03, 2009

In Small Packages

udall The plausibility of using small nuclear reactors in situations where a full-scale reactor might be seen as overkill is an idea pushed, as you would imagine, by vendors with such reactors in their portfolios. In fact, a group of those vendors travelled around Washington during the early fall months scaring up as much interest in their wares to anyone who wanted to listen. Not just think tanks, but the NRC has hosted a presentation on small units.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told the NRC forum on small reactors in mid-October that his agency needs to ensure it has adequate resources to plan for detailed review of small and medium reactors. Among the issues needing resolution is focusing on specific technical designs.

“We need to hear from the industry about the demand for these reactors, and the industry’s development and deployment priorities,” Jaczko said.

Rod Adams has a terrific discussion of the NRC forum up at Atomic Insights.

Jaczko sounds measured but open, about what one would expect. It’s not exactly kick the can, but the can still ended up in the offices of Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.) who decided to move the conversation forward a bit. He’s submitted an amendment to the Energy Act of 2005 to allocate $250 million to the Department of Energy to investigate ways to lower the cost of building new reactors.

Now, the small reactors are not the meat of the bill. Here’s how he describes its purpose:

To amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a research and development and demonstration program to reduce manufacturing and construction costs relating to nuclear reactors, and for other purposes.

And here’s what he wants to be researched:

(A) modular and small-scale reactors

(B) balance-of-plant issues [that is, the elements of electricity generation not including nuclear reactors – things like turbines];

(C) cost-efficient manufacturing and construction;

(D) licensing issues; and

(E) enhanced proliferation controls.

So a bundle of thing, but this is the first mention of small reactors we’ve seen in legislation to date.

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Interestingly, stories we’ve seen about this and the speech Udall gave on the floor of the Senate introducing it all fasten on the small reactors, though he didn’t mention them at all in his speech.

According to a report in the examiner, Colorado's senior U.S. senator has proposed a bill that would give the federal government authority to research whether small-scale, modular nuclear reactors are a feasible contributor to the nation's energy supply.

That’s from Nuclear Street. Our friend Dan Yurman over at Idaho Samizdat also focused on it:

Colorado Senator Mark Udall, has introduced a bill to authorize federal R&D for small, modular reactors. Udall said in a speech on the Senate floor he believes nuclear energy is an important part of the nation's response to global warming.

Here’s video of his speech if you want to take a listen.

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It seems churlish to talk of small reactors and not provide a way for you to learn about them. So visit NuScale Power, Babcock & Wilcox, even the still-incubating TerraPower. That’ll get you started.

Sen. Mark Udall. We suspect every western politician has photos like this.

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