Skip to main content

Appeal of Small Reactors May Grow Following Fukushima Accident

Small, scalable reactors have captured the interest of industry and government alike. Their diverse uses, ease of deployment and relatively low cost are selling points, making the clean-air benefits of nuclear energy available to more companies in more places—and the first prototypes are not as far off as some may think. Russia is set next year to be the first in the world to deploy an innovative small nuclear power plant, aboard a barge docked offshore from the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The safety attributes of small reactors—less than 300 megawatts—are drawing increased attention in light of the Fukushima accident. Some designs place major components underground, out of reach of such natural phenomena as tsunamis and floods. And because these plants contain a relatively small amount of fuel, they produce less heat and radiation than large plants. Small plants also are seen as more affordable to build than their 1,000-plus megawatt counterparts. Ernest Moniz, director of MIT’s Energy Initiative, highlighted some of these points in a March 28 essay for The Atlantic:
The total capital cost is more in the billion dollar range rather than a significant multiple of that. Capacity can be built up with smaller bites, and this may lead to more favorable financing terms.
Moniz notes that, to be viable commercially, the SMRs must be competitive with large nuclear plants on a cost-per-installed-megawatt basis:
The [large plants] have been driven to larger and larger size in order to realize economies of scale. The SMRs may be able to defeat this logic by having factory construction of the SMR or at least of its major components. …The catch-22 is that the economies of manufacture will presumably be realizable only if there is a sufficiently reliable stream of orders to keep the manufacturing lines busy.
Tennessee Valley Authority is exploring the feasibility of building a small modular reactor—Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower design—that would begin commercial operation by 2020. TVA, which also operates large nuclear power plants, is interested in small reactors as potential replacements for older fossil-fueled power plants. Small reactor projects also are moving ahead in Argentina, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa and France. The International Atomic Energy Agency is working to coordinate the efforts of member states on both small (less than 300 megawatt) and medium-sized designs (300 to 700 megawatt):
Small and medium sized reactors (SMRs) may provide an attractive and affordable nuclear power option for many developing countries with small electrical grids, insufficient infrastructure and limited investment capability.
One of the leaders in small reactor development is the Russian Federation. A large portion of the country has low population density, a decentralized power system and a rigorous climate that requires robust sources of electric power and thermal energy. The country has identified several potential locations for floating nuclear co-generation plants, which consist of a barge-mounted dwelling unit, nuclear island and steam turbine. The first “floating power unit,” launched last June, is scheduled for completion in 2012. It will be towed to Vilyuchinsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula for deployment:
The [small reactor] offers an economic alternative to onshore power plants in remote areas with costly power transmission and fossil fuel deliveries.
Moniz emphasizes the length of time it will take to develop new reactor concepts and the importance of starting now:
Prior to Fukushima, the Obama administration submitted to the Congress a proposed 2012 budget that would greatly enhance the level of activity in bringing SMRs to market. …The program is modest but sensible. Obviously the federal budget deficit makes it difficult to start any new programs, but a hiatus in creating new clean energy options—be it nuclear SMRs or renewables or advanced batteries—will have us looking back in 10 years lamenting the lack of a technology portfolio needed to meet our energy and environmental needs economically or to compete in the global market. Let's get on with it.

Comments

seth said…
Nope spending $150B per annum on mititary R&D no questions asked is much more important than any expenditure on the nations nuke energy future which needs a business case. China will soon be leaving us in the dustbin of civilization. American's need to be deeply ashamed of their country and its crooked politicians 99% of whom are on Big Oil's payroll.
John Powalski said…
More nuclear industry wishful thinking. We have yet to begin to understand the implications of the unprecedented disaster at Fukushima for our industry.
Horizon3 said…
Why is it that our idiots in government constantly force the wheel to be reinvented? With stupid redundant regs and laws that are not helpful or in many cases outright harmful.
We have been using small compact reactors in the military for more than 50 years. Without a single nuclear incident mind you.

The Russians on the other hand have had several, this is mostly due to crappy design, substandard materials, and most important, peoples attitudes. The Chinese probably have had several, since they stole or bought their designs from the Russians, and they have even worse attitudes when it comes to human life value, but they don't talk about it so we will probably never know.

Popular posts from this blog

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?