December 14, 2011

Small nuclear reactors and the US Energy Future

A newly released study from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) concludes that small modular reactors may hold the key to the future of U.S. nuclear power generation.

It would be a huge stimulus for high-valued job growth, restore U.S. leadership in nuclear reactor technology and, most importantly, strengthen U.S. leadership in a post-Fukushima world, on matters of nuclear safety, nuclear security, nonproliferation, and nuclear waste management,” the report said.

The reports assessed the economic feasibility of classical, gigawatt-scale reactors and the possible new generation of modular reactors. The latter would have a generating capacity of 600 megawatts or less, would be factory-built as modular components, and then shipped to their desired location for assembly.

The full reports can be downloaded at the Energy Policy Institute website:

Small modular reactors could be especially appealing for markets that could not easily accommodate gigawatt-scale plants, such as those currently served by aging, 200- to 400-megawatt coal plants, which are likely to be phased out during the next decade, Rosner said. An unknown factor that will affect the future of these plants would be the terms of any new clean-air regulations that might be enacted in the next year.

An important safety aspect of small modular reactors is that they are designed to eliminate the need for human intervention during an emergency. In some of the designs, Rosner explained, “the entire heat load at full power can be carried passively by thermal convection. There’s no need for pumps.”

Rosner, Robert and Stephen Goldberg with Joseph S. Hezir. "Small Modular Reactors - Key to Future Nuclear Power Generation in the U.S.," Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, December 1, 2011.

Rosner, Robert, Stephen Goldberg, Joseph S. Hezir, and Edward M. Davis. "Analysis of GW-Scale Overnight Capital Costs," Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, December 1, 2011.

Benedict, K. and Lordan, R. 2011, Workshop Report on Leadership and the Future of Nuclear Energy Conference, Chicago, 9-10 June

Rosner, Robert and Stephen Goldberg. "Small Modular Reactors - Key to Future Nuclear Power Generation in the U.S.," July 14, 2011

Rosner, Robert, Rebecca Lordan, and Stephen Goldberg. "Moving to Passive Designs," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 67(4) 23-29, June/July Issue 2011.

Goldberg, Stephen and Robert Rosner. "Nuclear Reactors: Generation to Generation," American Academy of Arts and Sciences, March 2011.

Integral Light Water Reactors (LWR)
o Babcock & Wilcox – mPower Reactor (160 MW)
o NuScale Power Inc. – NuScale Reactor (45 MW)
o Westinghouse – AP 1000 derived SMR (200 MW)
o Holtec – Inherently Safe Modular Underground Reactor (HI-SMUR 140) (140 MW)

High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactors
o AREVA – Antares
o General Atomics – Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR)
o Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Ltd. – Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR)

Liquid Metal-Cooled and Fast Reactor
o GE Hitachi – Nuclear Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) (311 MW)
o Hyperion Power Generation – Hyperion Power Module (HPG) (70 MW thermal)
o Toshiba – Toshiba 4S (Super Small, Safe and Simple) (10 MW)

I do not think that the USA will move fast enough or aggressively to seize the lead with small modular nuclear reactors. Other countries are moving for the lead with small modular reactors.

China is building the HT-PMR pebble bed now (210 MWe). China should finish it by 2015 and will follow with a few dozen of that model.
South Korea is moving on small modular reactors.
Russia has funded a few small modular reactor projects.
India has indicated that they will make and sell small nuclear reactors.

The USA will make some small modular reactors. The Hyperion Power Generation reactor is the only one that I think is interesting. Other reactors being developed in the USA is the Flibe Energy Thorium reactor.

Each of the US reactor company could get some reactors built and make profitable businesses for their companies. However, to become big in the future international market for small modular reactors there will have to be a strong domestic market as a foundation. The NRC interference and the lack of a program to replace the existing coal plants with nuclear prevents the US from having a future small modular market that will be of the scale that China and then India will have for nuclear.

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