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DOE Moves Forward on Small Reactors

Writer Reese Palley has quite a little rant going on at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Unfortunately, all the arguments for developing and licensing small, modular nuclear reactors fell on deaf ears at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission has no immediate plans even to begin assessing traveling wave or any other small nuclear technology.

It is not as if mini-nuclear technologies are experimental and unproven. [etc.]

Palley is the author of The Answer: Why Only Inherently Safe Mini Nuclear Power Plants Can Save Our World, which I haven’t read. He certainly wants you to know he’s all over those small reactors.

Unfortunately, though, his piece was published today. So was this, at the Department of Energy’s site:

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced the first step toward manufacturing small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in the United States, demonstrating the Administration’s commitment to advancing U.S. manufacturing leadership in low-carbon, next generation energy technologies and restarting the nation’s nuclear industry. Through the draft Funding Opportunity Announcement announced today, the Department will establish cost-shared agreements with private industry to support the design and licensing of SMRs.

Palley was talking about the NRC, but if DOE is helping with the licensing process, then the NRC will be prepared to review those licenses. The seriousness of this effort was underscored by a quick-to-follow press release from Westinghouse:

"Westinghouse will apply for DOE's small modular reactor investment funds with a consortium of utilities. Access to this investment fund helps lower the barrier to market entry for American companies. Virtually all energy sources that feed the national grid have been developed through public investments in public-private research and development partnerships.

So the die is cast. I took a look over at Terrapower, which Palley touts in his article, but it doesn’t have a press release about this. NuScale hasn’t weighed in either. Babcock and Wilcox had this interesting bit of news – from last week:

Babcock & Wilcox is to restructure its commercial nuclear business, separating its small modular reactor operations from its other nuclear energy related businesses.

The company said that the move was in response to "changing market conditions, growth opportunities and the continuing progress of its small modular reactor (SMR) business."

So there’s that.

Palley’s article confused me because the DOE plan had been in the works for awhile. It’s just a coincidence that the details of the plan sprang forth the same day, but in any event, it’s pleasing to see work moving forward on small reactors. It ought to even please Palley.


Drew C said…
This is business as usual for the US government. The DOE funds will go to the large established players with the lobbying clout like Westinghouse. Startups like Nuscale and Terrapower have a snowballs chance at getting this money. This DOE program isn't about nurturing innovation in SMR development as much as it is just another round of corporate welfare.
Atomikrabbit said…
I don’t believe the TerraPower design qualifies for the government definition of a SMR (< 300MW). Although I can’t find it in their website material, I believe they are planning for a 500-1000 MW design, and in fact have moved away from the Travelling Wave concept towards something closer to the IFR (but without the pyroprocessing).
seth said…
Why is that the NEI never points out that the DOE holds almost $80B in nuclear industry funds ostensibly for decommissioning, waste and insurance very little of which is likely to be used. When a teeny tiny portion of those funds is used for nuclear research it is always portrayed as a giant federal subsidy. What it is in fact is an odious dereliction of federal duty to support an industry with its own funds.
Anonymous said…
I've always wondered how it is legal for the DoE to continue collecting funds for the development of a waste repository when they are not in fact doing that. In the world of private business that would be considered fraud, or at least breach of fiduciary responsibility, taking money for doing a job you are not doing. Of course, the whole shebang is in violation of federal law when Obama got together with Harry Reid and Gregory Jaczko and violated the NWPA by trashing Yucca Mountain, so I guess they think embezzling a few tens of billions of public dollars is no big deal.
Anonymous said…
The money in the Nuclear Waste Fund is not "nuclear industry funds." It was paid into the fund by utility ratepayers specifically for construction of a deep geological waste repository, not for any R&D project some in the industry find intriguing.
seth said…
I'm sorry Anonymous is having so much trouble with this very simple concept. The $80B fund is administered under the DOE's umbrella invested no doubt in some congressman's favorite pork barrel project like bridges to nowhere. The money could be INVESTED instead in nuke R&D just like Boeing invested in the 787. Note that the UK is now considering INVESTING in the GE Prism SMR as the preferred means of destroying its nuclear waste.
Anonymous said…
Except that's incorrect.

"The fees paid by utilities are deposited quarterly into the Nuclear Waste Fund and
invested in U.S. Treasury securities."

Either way, they're not "industry funds," no matter how much Seth might want to spend them.
Anonymous said…
As for the UK, their National Decommissioning Authority is apparently about to reject the reactor disposition option for a number of reasons.

If you're going to chide someone for being wrong, you should make sure your facts are right first.

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