Skip to main content

What's Small Is Big to TVA


The New York Times has come around to nuclear energy slowly, ever so slowly. There have been some very nice editorials and some that almost get to very nice. The editorial yesterday is called The Dirty Energy Party and is mostly about Republican efforts to rein in environmental rulemaking. You can judge that part for yourself. It was this paragraph that grabbed us:
The main area of agreement between Mr. Obama and the Republicans seems to be nuclear power. Both sides support extensive loan guarantees to an industry that hasn’t built a new reactor in years but could supply a lot of clean power if it ever got going.
I’d probably throw the Democratic party in there, too – support has gotten pretty broad based – and in a brief mention, I won’t quibble too much about the Times ignoring the new reactors in progress in Georgia and South Carolina and Alabama. In my mind, that's getting going. In any event, I’d chalk this editorial up as almost very nice.

---

A little news from my favorite utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority – why favorite? Read its history some time – it’s exceptionally fascinating. Oh, the news:
Jack Bailey, vice president of Nuclear Generation Deployment at the Tennessee Valley Authority, said his company plans to be the first utility in the US to build a set of small reactors.
Small reactors are a fairly recent enthusiasm. They take advantage of economies of scale to provide as much electricity as some of the first generation of nuclear plants, but are much smaller – and much smaller than a modern full-size plant.
At the same conference, officials from the US Department of Commerce and Department of Energy told the audience that the Obama administration sees big potential in small reactors to boost US competitiveness and re-energize the country's manufacturing base.
That’s good.
The White House's budget proposal, unveiled Monday, has requested $97 million for DOE to accelerate commercial deployment of small reactor technologies.
Even better. In some scenarios, the reactor could be built in a factory and shipped to a site. Most also have a plug-and-play capability – that is, a utility can chain a number of reactors together to incrementally add to their capacity. NEI has an interesting fact sheet about small reactors here, including a survey of the companies that want to produce them and other potential uses for them, including creating process heat for industrial application and helping to extract oil from Canada’s pesky tar sands.

Small reactors have attracted a lot of interest, in government as well as industry. The U.S. government’s International Trade Administration has issued a report about small reactors called The Commercial Outlook for U.S. Small Modular ReactorsIt includes “a series of policy and industry recommendations and, in an appendix, identifies 27 ‘best prospect’ international markets for SMRs.” Worth a look.

I often say that things like this are in early days. Not this time: small reactors have moved to the point where utilities are considering implementation. Consider TVA’s announcement a sort of marker in the story of small reactors.

Arnold Rothstein photographs workers at TVA's Watts Bar hydroelectric plant in 1942.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…