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11/27/2012 08:44 AM     print story email story  

US Funds Development of Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors News

In another sign that the Obama Administration remains committed to nuclear power, the Department of Energy (DOE) is funding a five-year project to design, license and help commercialize small, modular nuclear reactors in the US.

Specifics are being negotiated, but DOE will fund up to half the cost of the $450 million project under a cost-share agreement with Babcock & Wilcox, the lead company selected to implement it. The Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel are also partners. DOE says it will help the firm obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing and achieve commercial operations by 2022.

Small modular reactors can produce 180 megawatts of energy - about one-third the size of current nuclear power plants. They are promoted as compact, scalable designs that can be constructed more cost-effectively and quickly than large reactors – obviating their biggest flaws. The reactors can be manufactured in factories and transported to sites where they would be “plug and play” upon arrival. Their smaller size allows the to be used on smaller electric grids and in locations that can't support larger plants, giving utilities more flexibility to scale with demand.

DOE also views the techology as an export opportunity for the US, "advancing its competitive edge in this emerging global industry."

The project will be based in Tennessee, supporting additional suppliers and operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

In 2010, DOE approved $8 billion in loan guarantees to support two new reactors at the Vogtle project spearheaded by Southern Company and Georgia Power.

The license was the first granted for a new US nuclear plants in more than three decades. The work there has been fraught with delays and cost overruns, which underscores the need for new designs such as the ones that will be supported with this latest round of funding.

Over the past three years, DOE also invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities for a range of nuclear technologies that span advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.

Despite the Obama Administration's enthusiasm for nuclear, countries such as Japan and Germany plan to phase it out. Even in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proceeding with caution – in August, it postponed at least 19 nuclear licensing decisions pending new policies for disposal and storage or nuclear waste.

Reader Comments (3)

Paxus Calta

Date Posted:
11/27/12 04:41 PM

You write "The license was the first granted for a new US nuclear plants in more than three decades. The work there has been fraught with delays and cost overruns, which underscores the need for new designs such as the ones that will be supported with this latest round of funding. " There is of course another way of looking at this, which is that instead of underscoring the need for new designs, it could underscore the need to ditch this technology which has failed repeatedly in multiple designs and continues to have accidents where the owners are not responsible for the costs. Were it left to the market, nuclear would be dead, including these small reactors which ew have lots of experience in the nuclear navy. Lots of experience creating electricity at crazy high costs. We need climate friendly energy solutions now and we have them in renewables and efficiency. Sadly, the big money is in nuclear, so that is where the most deceptive salespeople go and the PAC money for politicians. The government will waste half a billion on reactor designs which will nto be ready for over a decade and then may well not be economic.

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Paxus Calta

Date Posted:
12/09/12 01:59 AM

Here is the further case against SMRs

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Date Posted:
12/24/12 10:03 PM

I'd be very happy to see any of the proven, meltdown proof generation of nuclear power designs put on the fast track for pilot projects. I'm not fond of wind power simply because it has a very big environmental footprint, is intermittent, has a short lifespan and a maintenance profile closer to an aircraft than a power plant.

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