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After the Ball: NuScale and Its Small Reactor Expo

PrintHere’s something that might have been kind of fun to attend if you were rambling around Oregon in August:

NuScale Power announced today that it will host the first NuScale Exposition (also known as NuEx) on August 20 and 21, 2015 in Corvallis, Oregon. NuEx will provide the opportunity to learn more about the US leader in small module reactor (SMR) development, tour its facilities, talk with senior executives and interface with suppliers, investors and state and federal legislators.

NuScale also hosted a gala dinner featuring “some of the finest wines of Oregon.” I was happy to read in NuScale’s follow-up press release that our old friend, Washington state Rep. Sharon Brown, was able to make it over the state line to try out some fine Oregon wine:

“[S]mall modular reactors are not your grandpa’s nuclear. They are emerging technologies built on existing designs. New nuclear is smaller, safer, and carbon-free.”

Smaller, sure. Safer? Well, when the legislature is out of session, Brown herself works at the Hanford site where the Columbia Generating Station is sited. I’m sure she’d agree it’s safe. But she’s saying nice things about her host, so that’s fine.

Why zero in on an Expo that’s passed? Well, it explains some of the attention NuScale’s been getting in the press, presumably a motivation for the Expo. We liked that the company’s hometown paper, The Corvallis Gazette, is  supportive if lightly skeptical (which is about the right mix for a journalistic enterprise). Its editorial on the expo mentions Fukushima and invites comment from Greenpeace, but concludes thusly:

But the company may benefit from another factor: Nuclear power doesn’t generate any carbon emissions, so if you’re looking for power sources that don’t contribute to climate change, you have to at least give some thought to this new generation of nuclear reactor.

It goes a little further:

In fact, the Obama administration’s new policy aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants may have the result of encouraging people to look harder at nuclear power as an important option for the 21st century.

Indeed, just so. But attention to the Expo was surprisingly far-flung and exceptionally positive in tone. For example, consider this from the Albany (N.Y.) Democrat-Herald:

How big is the market potential? The numbers are breathtaking.

According to feasibility study released last year by the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory, global demand for SMR energy generation could be 55 to 75 gigawatts by 2035 (excluding Russia, which is assumed to be closed to foreign suppliers).

That equates to between 1,100 and 1,500 NuScale power modules, the company’s chief financial officer, Jay Surina, told the audience at NuEx. Assuming a 25 percent market share and a 10-year deployment time frame, he predicted the company could be turning out 28 to 38 modules a year.

This is a long article, but well worth the read. Speaking of far flung, this article in Wind Power Engineering grazes against NuScale:

The Senator [Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.] further suggests the nation should build nuclear reactors instead of wind farms. He’s actually half right: We should be building small modular reactors (SMRs) powered by thorium along with wind farms because consumers expect inexpensive power 24/7. As the EPA shutters coal fired plants, natural gas and wind will pick up demand for some time to come.

SMRs will get here, eventually. Utah’s Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale Power in Oregon say they are planning a 600 MW nuclear plant of 12, 50-MW SMRs.

Naturally, this is much more wind-friendly piece, making its endorsement of small reactors especially interesting.

Whether it’s NuScale, Babcock & Wilcox, Holtec, TerraPower or the number of other companies promoting small reactor technologies, promoting the idea of small reactors can only be positive. (We’d say technology rather than idea, but that’s a bit reductive, as most of the designs are quite different from one another.) But the idea is a good one and seems to be gaining traction – and the expo clearly worked very well in bringing attention to where it can do some good.

Comments

Engineer-Poet said…
NuScale seems to be missing a big market opportunity in combined heat and power.  If the emergency planning zone for its passively-safe reactors can be reduced to the reactor building itself, those buildings could be placed next to or even inside cities.  This allows steam tapped off the turbines (or even the full stream, once the temperature and pressure has been dropped to 150°C and saturated) to go for space heat and DHW.  In cold climates this could eliminate the fuel demand and carbon emissions from electricity, space heat and electrified transport in vast urban areas.

I've seen what even partially electrified transport can do.  My previous diesel car averaged about 38 MPG; my current plug-in hybrid claims 124.6 by the trip computer.  If my electricity and space heat were carbon-free my remaining carbon emissions would be about 1 ton/year... and that's assuming that the remaining liquid fuel came from fossil carbon, which might not be the case if off-peak nuclear heat were used to process biomass.  The fossil fuel interests must be quietly freaking out over the prospect of so much of their market simply disappearing.

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