Micro-reactors As Cheap As Natural Gas Without Air Pollution

This article looks at the mid-2020 timeline for micro-reactors which has strong Department of Defense interest. Nextbigfuture has been interviewing the project lead, Venkat Rao, for what was the Los Alamos Megapower micro-reactor. Nextbigfuture will also be talking to Westinghouse about the eVinci reactor which is their commercial evolution of Megapower.

They are working on automated mass production of the heat pipes. Heat pipes are the critical technology for the reactor. They are looking to reduce the cost of heat pipes by ten times.

After the first reactors are built, they will scale up to factory mass production. They will be able to build complete units in one month or less.

The cost of the micro-reactors has a capital cost goal of $1.98 per watt. This is the capital cost for natural gas reactors. They would be 4 times cheaper than large nuclear reactors in the USA or Europe. They would be lower cost than large nuclear reactors in China or South Korea. There would not be the costs for containment. There would not be interest rate costs and risks for long construction times.

The reactors would operate at 800 degrees celsius, which is optimal for process heat for co-generation. This would enable the reactor to full utilize the heat and not just the electricity. This doubles the economic value of reactors.

The newest design shows supercritical CO2 turbines. Supercritical CO2 is many times smaller than regular steam turbines. The small modular power enables the current supercritical CO2 turbines to be used. Large supercritical CO2 turbines have not been built.

This reactor design does not change what is happening with nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is unburned fuel.

It would be a breakthrough in construction cost, construction time, enabling higher and more valuable operating temperatures, operating safety and staffing levels.

The $2 per watt of electricity target price means a cost of $20 million for a 10 MWe reactor that fits on truck. This will be a breakthrough technology for many space applications. We will be able power space bases and colonies and new propulsion.

$20 million reactors that take one month to build will be a huge breakthrough that puts nuclear power back as a major solution for global warming and for electrical and industrial transformation.

Solid State Nuclear Battery


The key benefits of eVinci are attributed to its technology:

Solid Core:

* Encapsulates fuel to significantly reduce proliferation risk
* Enables inherently safe core due to strong negative temperature feedback

Heat Pipes:

* Eliminates the need for reactor coolant pump and all associated auxiliary systems to enable compact packaging and simple design
* Can inherently adjust heat load, thus allowing easier autonomous load following
* Can operate at higher temperatures to enable higher efficient power conversion system and high-grade process heat

Both heat pipes and the solid core together make the eVinci micro reactor a “solid state reactor” with minimal moving parts, which is key to the reliability and maintenance-free design of a long-life decentralized energy generator.

Microreactor Timeline

There is a roadmap for the deployment of the first micro-reactor (nuclear fission)for a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) domestic installation by Dec 31, 2027.

Read the 29 page. Nuclear Energy Institute. Roadmap for the Deployment of Micro-Reactors for U.S. Department of Defense Domestic Installation. Prepared on October 4, 2018

This roadmap informs the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) development of a Federal Pilot Program study for micro-reactors. The pilot program would contract with a commercial entity to a site, construct and operate micro-reactors of no greater than 50 MWe to provide resilience for national security infrastructure at DoD and DOE facilities by December 31, 2027.

The report discusses where DoD would use the reactors and how they can get them within 8 years.

The report discusses NRC licensing issues.

The report discusses Uranium supplies and fuel for the micro-reactors.

The timeline is 5-10 years, with a 50-50 over-under of seven years.

Westinghouse eVinci Evolution of Los Alamos Megapower

The Westinghouse eVinci micro-reactor is a semi-autonomous, transportable, and scalable energy generator ranging from 200 KWe to 15 MWe. The eVinci, which is an evolution of the Los Alamos National Lab’s Megapower concept and advanced heat pipe technology, is designed to provide combined heat and power for military installations, remote communities and mining installations for high resiliency operation. The eVinci utilizes HALEU and has a solid-state reactor with minimal moving parts and is being targeted to operate for at least 10 years without refueling, and maintenance.

Westinghouse eVinci and ARPA-E Advanced Manufacturing of Embedded Heat Pipe Nuclear Hybrid Reactor

Los Alamos National Laboratory, was funded for $3,552,295 by ARPA-E. There has been over $8.5 million in ARPA-E funding and Westinghouse is funding over 5 times the government funding level.

Los Alamos National Laboratory will develop a scalable, compact, high-temperature, heat pipe reactor (HPR) to provide heat and electricity to remote areas. The team will enable the use of high-temperature materials via advanced manufacturing to reduce costs. A 15MWth reactor could be built on-site in less than a month and self-regulate its power to plug into microgrids. Further cost reduction will be achieved from novel sensors embedded in the reactor core for continuous monitoring, reducing the number of operational staff needed. The novel design could eliminate obstacles to nuclear deployment, including cost uncertainty and hybrid integration.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will have pre-licensing vendor design reviews (VDRs) the NuScale 50 MWe SMR and Westinghouse’s eVinci microreactor. The CNSC is now involved with ten pre-licensing VDRs, all for small reactors with capacities in the range of 3-300 MWe.

Westinghouse was bought by Canadian Brookfield Business Partners from Toshiba for $4.6 billion.

General Atomics

General Atomics (GA) is developing a mobile nuclear power supply that fits within a standard shipping container and is capable of autonomous generation of 4-10 MWe with a refueling period greater than 10 years.

NuScale

NuScale is in the process of evaluating multiple micro-reactor concepts in the 1 MWe to 10 MWe reactor size range.

Oklo

Oklo is developing a compact 2 MWe fast spectrum reactor. The reactor operates purely on natural physical forces, with very few moving parts.

X-energy

The X-energy X-battery is a road transportable high temperature, gas-cooled pebble bed reactor with a thermal rating of 10 MWt.

Other Developers

HolosGen, LeadCold Nuclear, NuGen, Starcore Nuclear, Urenco, and Ultra Safe Nuclear are also making micro-reactors.

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