Game Changer: US Start-up’s Small Nuclear Plants to Make Big Difference to World’s Energy Future

Anyone banging on about carbon dioxide gas and climate change, and not promoting nuclear power, can’t be taken seriously.

Nuclear power is the only stand-alone power generation source that does not emit carbon dioxide gas during the generation process. And, unlike chaotically intermittent wind and solar, it’s available 24 x 365.

That the world’s third largest uranium exporter has never had a nuclear power plant (and banned them) astonishes all and sundry.

Australia also holds the world’s largest uranium reserves.

And yet, in 1998 its Federal government passed amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and enacted the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, specifically prohibiting nuclear fuel fabrication, power, enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

Uranium extracted from BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia is clearly good enough for the French, South Koreans, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese, being just a few of the 30 countries where you will find nearly 450 nuclear reactors currently operating – their combined output accounts for over 11% of global electricity production – with another 15 countries currently building 60 reactors among them.

One argument is that, even if Australia started now, it will take a decade before it could bring its first nuclear power generation plant online.

Which reminds STT of the old Chinese proverb about the best time to plant a tree being 20 years ago and that the second best time is now.

And like the acorn that becomes a mighty oak, the answer to bringing nuclear power generation to bear on Australia’s self-inflicted wind and solar debacle may be to start small. Very small, that is.

An energy start-up in Oregon, NuScale is currently working on a next generation nuclear reactor, that’s a fraction of the size of conventional nuclear plants. Advantages include the fact that it can be scaled up, using a series of modular units, and that the units themselves can be placed closer to the load and, thereby, reduce transmission losses. Something that is completely unavoidable with industrial wind turbines, which have to be spread from horizon to horizon in areas well beyond major population centres, particularly in places like the US and Australia: Lost in Transmission: Colossal Cost of Connecting Remote Wind & Solar

Caroline Delbert takes a look at the latest on a small idea which has the prospect of making a very big difference to the world’s future energy needs.

The Tiny, Simple Nuclear Reactor That Could Change Energy
Popular Mechanics
Caroline Delbert
13 December 2019

  • The next step in nuclear power is 1/100th the size of today’s reactors.
  • An Oregon energy startup has a modular nuclear power reactor 1/100th the size of a traditional reactor and is supposedly far safer.
  • The reactors can be installed in multiples to scale up or down to a location’s power needs.
  • Traditional U.S. nuclear plants are reaching end of life, and the technology is simply outdated.

An energy startup in Oregon wants us to rethink our reluctance to embrace nuclear energy, Wired reports. NuScale Power studies new reactor technology from a lab on the Oregon State University campus—the same university where the 2019 climate crisis petition began. Their cutting-edge reactor is tiny and, its proponents insist, much safer than our existing notions of nuclear energy lead us to believe.

The oldest operating U.S. nuclear power reactor opened in 1969, and even the newest powered on in the mid-1990s. One completed in 2016, started construction back in 1973. “Only two new reactors are under construction in the U.S., but they’re billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule,” Wired reports.

Like our aging and increasingly dangerous infrastructure, these nuclear plants need to be comprehensively updated or replaced, and soon.

Even so, nuclear power accounts for two-thirds of the United States’s total renewable power output, meaning any reactor that reaches end of life can significantly reduce our amount of renewable energy. NuScale’s next generation nuclear reactor is tiny by comparison to today’s operating reactors in the U.S. It’s safe to install in clusters according to the power needs of a specific area, and because of its tiny size, these reactors are much easier to encase in safety devices and contain in the event of an emergency.

There are regulatory differences, too. A demonstrably safer nuclear plant wouldn’t need to be built ten miles or more outside of its service area. In fact, the existing regulatory process and paradigm is based on huge reactors that are all going to age out of the system soon. Once new technologies begin to receive approval, regulators can begin to convert or even sundown existing plants and reduce the overall risk.

In the NuScale reactor, a core is kept cool by circulating normal fresh water, as happens in today’s operating nuclear plants on a much, much larger scale. Inside huge nuclear towers, most of the space is dedicated to cooling. The NuScale reactor uses gravity and buoyancy to naturally circulate the cooling water. The size difference is staggering: “About the size of two school buses stacked end to end, you could fit around 100 of them in the containment chamber of a large conventional reactor,” Wired reports. The reactor technology itself isn’t completely different than before, it’s just wildly more efficient and up to date.

The Byron plant generates 2,450 megawatt electrical (MWe) with two gigantic traditional towers. The largest reactors in the world top out at about 8,000 MWe. Each NuScale reactor rates 60 MWe, which sounds small because the reactor is small by design. Plants can install dozens at a time.

Or, even better, our army of about 100 nuclear plants around the U.S. can be turned into 1,000 small plants that provide more local power with less distance to travel. The Byron plant supplies millions of people up to 100 miles away, which has been fine, but local power bleeds less energy in storage, transit, and other overhead energy costs.

The modular nuclear reactors have 12,000 pages of technical information wending its way through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In the meantime, they’re promising a clean, plentiful, cutting-edge energy source they say is just as good as wind and solar without the pitfalls.
Popular Mechanics

Big opportunity arises from thinking small.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Indonesia is leaving Australia behind. Thorcon is building thorium/uranium molten salt reactors for Indonesia.
    http://thorconpower.com/

  2. Small Nuclear reactors aren’t new – what do you think is used on the nuc subs and aircraft carriers? Also I believe there is a European Union country already producing them for the domestic market. About time Australia got on board.

  3. GE-Hitachi’s BWRX-300 is a 300MW SMR, of the simplest and therefore, most cost-effective design of npp there has ever been or is ever likely to be and will be less than half the capital cost per MW of NuScale’s SMR.

    The first one will be operational in 2027, and by 2030, it is likely that the factory-produced capital cost will be down to US$ 2,000/kW, or US$600 million for a 300 MW npp. Each one will generate nearly 2.4 million MWh of low-carbon, 24/7 electricity for 60 years.

    5 of these BWRX-300s would generate the 12 TWh of electricity SA uses, for a capital cost of just A$4.35 billion. They occupy tiny sites with a perimeter of only 1,060 yards; you could walk round them in 10 minutes. As Gen III+ npps, they are passively safe, with their Emergency Planning Zone [EPZ] at the boundary fence. You could picnic outside and watch the emergency services deal with any minor – and they can only be minor – incidents going off inside.

    The end-of-life, 426 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel will sit in 16 dry-flasks ‘at the back of the parking lot’. It’s the safest form of waste on the planet and ready to be burnt as fuel in Gen IV reactors, which will be operational in the 2030s. The minuscule waste stream from Gen IV reactors decays to the radiation levels of the ground beneath our feet – safely, easily and cheaply stored.

    Genuine environmentalists should strive to support the low-carbon generation of electricity, but have the objective of minimising the environmental impact of technologies – the landscape desecration, ecosystem destruction, species wipe-out and waste mountains. In all of these respects, the quality of the BWRX-300 can be described as microscopic.

    It needs a SA energy expert to compare and contrast the BWRX-300 with wind and solar technologies. It would be great to see a comment with details of capital cost and environmental impact of renewables, with backup, capable of delivering 12 TWh per year of low-carbon, 24/7 electricity – for 60 years.

    • What’s the source for this information about the BWRX-300?
      I’m particularly interested in the claim for “less than half the capital cost per MW of NuScale’s SMR”.

      Also, how transportable is it? A lot of the appeal of the NuScale is that the entire reactor is transportable as a single unit so all assembly can be done in a factory rather than on-site which is where a lot of the certification and construction hassles/holdups with NPPs currently occur.

      • At 32:50 on this, 7 potential suppliers of SMRs are invited to discuss the competitiveness of their product. David Powell [now retired] of GE Hitachi starts off with the mention of US$2000/kW for the NOAK, base load configured BWRX-300. It’s worth listening to what the 6 others have to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNpant6xANE

        This explains why the BWRX-300 is the simplest and most cost-effective design ever, of any npp and where the cost savings accrue: https://nuclear.gepower.com/build-a-plant/products/nuclear-power-plants-overview/bwrx-300#0

        This is a NuScale cost figure for the FOAK, which works out atUS$ 4166/kW for the 720 MW of installed capacity, so the NOAK is sure to drop that below the 2X figure for the BWRX-300: https://www.nuscalepower.com/benefits/cost-competitive

        The BWRX-300 is an integral reactor, built in sections from the bottom up and transport is not raised as an issue. The below grade, ‘missile-silo’ type installation obviates the need for the huge expense of a containment dome.

      • At 32:50 on this, 7 potential suppliers of SMRs are invited to discuss the competitiveness of their product. David Powell [now retired] of GE Hitachi starts off with the mention of US$2000/kW for the NOAK, base load configured BWRX-300. It’s worth listening to what the 6 others have to say: Search for: WNE 2018 – Lunch Debate on Small Modular Reactors

        This explains why the BWRX-300 is the simplest and most cost-effective design ever, of any npp and where the cost savings accrue. Search for: INTRODUCING THE BWRX-300

        This is a NuScale cost figure for the FOAK, which works out atUS$ 4166/kW for the 720 MW of installed capacity, so the NOAK is sure to drop that below the 2X figure for the BWRX-300. Search for: NUCLEAR OPTION FOR MULTIPLE APPLICATIONS

        The BWRX-300 is an integral reactor, built in sections from the bottom up and transport is not raised as an issue. The below grade, ‘missile-silo’ type installation obviates the need for the huge expense of a containment dome.

      • Thanks for the search phrases – I will follow these up

        The BWRX-300 is an integral reactor, built in sections from the bottom up and transport is not raised as an issue

        The question is how heavy and large the reactor vessel is. While is is probably straightforward for the reactor core, primary cooling loop, steam generators etc to be contained within a single reactor vessel,is it practicable to transport this vessel on existing roads and bridges with weight/vertical & horizontal clearance limits etc? The low $/kW is largely a function of output scale since the BWRX-300 is right at the limit of the definition of a SMR which gives it large advantage in this respect. The other SMRs are smaller because transportability has been a prime objective in their designs – for some deployment locations,this is inconsequential but for many others it could be a limiting factory on the feasibility of deploying the BWRX-300.

  4. Congrats to STT for posting pro-nuclear: it’s the safest electricity generation we have, bar none. & new improved technologies are being developed all the time. As PhD nuclear engineer Robert Zubrin shows clearly in Merchants Of Despair, a great book, the 1%s are culling human numbers & obstructing human progress.

    Nuclear power is demonised via the fake news MSM, burdened with overkill in health & safety regulations, harrassed by constantly changing building specs & in the case of fusion, deliberately underfunded.

    I’ll even applaud the no CO2 tactic: the perverts running the human caused CO2 warming/climate fraud have handed us a weapon. It would be daft not to use it.

    CO2 main function in our atmosphere is plant food, which is why commercial greenhouses pump in more CO2 for better & quicker plant growth.

    Lord Christopher Monckton exposed 9 lies in Al Gores film, in a Brit court case. The judge politely termed these “errors of fact”, dismissing the film as political rather than scientific.
    In fact there are 35 lies & 25 exaggerations in Gore’s film, all alarmist. The odds of this being accidental are billions to one against.

    The best place I’ve seen this made clear is geology Prof. Ian Plimer’s great book:
    Heaven And Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science.
    This is no easy weekend read: 500+ pages, 2000+ refs to peer-reviewed papers etc, it’s a real work of scholarship, including a most useful History chapter. No one who reads this & Dr. Tim Ball’s great little book can be duped into believing that man-made CO2 is the control knob of climate.
    Plimer is contemptuous of the UN fraud factory the IPCC, & of the entire fraud.

    To look into Dr. Tim Ball’s victory vs climate fraud Michael Mann:
    http://www.principia-scientific.org
    & put Ball defeats Mann in the search box.
    John Doran.

  5. Allan Taylor says:

    We need to BAN the unreliable renewables, not ban nuclear power. How crazy can you get?

  6. Phil Clarke says:

    The banning of nuclear power by the Australian Government is highly questionable in that the Federal Government appears here to be usurping State Powers. This appears to have been facilitated by pretending that nuclear power stations are a “defence” issue

    The Australian Constitution was written in 1899 in the United Kingdom. Matters of power supply do not appear under the list of Federal Powers

    No-one has challenged the legislation largely because until recently funding a nuclear power station could only be afforded by the Federal Government from the Federal budget, but the situation has changed – firstly with joint state/commercial ventures world wide, and secondly by the invention of more affordable modular reactor designs.

    Australia needs nuclear power to reduce carbon and GHG emissions, and still maintain and improve reliable, abundant, power supply

    The recent bushfires have brought a lot of people back to their senses – WE are poised to tackle Climate Change at last, with appropriate tools that can do the job, instead of environment damaging turbines, and solar panels that or course cannot supply power at night

    As for batteries and other storage systems – the penny has dropped that they too are finite in capacity, and therefore intermittent

    Just maybe sanity is showing signs of returning, and more people are seeing through the Renewables scams to the reality that we need a Nuclear/Renewables hybrid grid where nuclear power supplies the reliable baseload we need

    • No, Phil, thanks to climate change hysteria, we are heading for peak stupid. Your PM and energy minister announced more money for wind and solar yesterday, not a peep about nuclear. So, if you want to eliminate carbon dioxide gas, you will need to convince them about the merits of nuclear. Good luck with that.

    • Michael Darby says:

      Phil Clarke, you mean well and your support for nuclear energy deserves applause. Australia needs nuclear power, but NOT to reduce carbon and GHG emissions. Any suggestion that harmless carbon dioxide emissions should be reduced, or any acceptance of the false claim that there is a greenhouse effect, boosts the influence of the enemies of coal who with very rare exceptions also hate nuclear.

      • Michael Darby, you have it exactly correct: CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is a very minor greenhouse gas, with zero to negligible warming or climate effect.
        H2O, water is 95%+ of the greenhouse effect, CO2 is less than 4%.
        Of the CO2 in our atmosphere, 95%+ is produced by nature.
        Less than 4% is produced by man. 57% is produced by warm tropical oceans evaporation. Decaying vegetation produces bundles. Animals breathe out 20 times mans’ output.

        The greenhouse effect serves to keep Earth’s temperature about 33DegC above what it would be, were they absent.
        The greenhouse gases serve to slow cooling at night.
        Earth’s heat comes from the Sun.

        Climatologist Dr. Tim Ball’s great little handbook for the layman reveals all, in only 121 pages, an easy weekend read:
        Human Caused Global Warming The Biggest Deception In History.
        Dr. Tim reveals the whole fraud has been pushed by Bankster Rockefellers & their multi-billionaire cronies like George Soros & others. He names Naomi Oreskes & the crook John Cook as the liars who concocted the 97% consensus fraud. If he were wrong these clowns would sue him in an instant. They do not sue. Cook runs the climate disinformation website skepticalscience.

        Dr. Tim has won 2 court cases exposing the fraud, most importantly against Michael “Hocky Stick” Mann.
        Mann , 1998, produced his hockey stick graph to try & wipe out 900 years of history: the inconvenient 400 year Medieval Warm Period & the even less convenient 500 year Little Ice Age, which ended about 1850. These periods show that climate change is natural & was happening before man’s output of CO2 started growing, about 1950s.

        Dr. Tim names the 1%s motives: depopulation, deindustrialisation & a Totalitarian world govt.

        John Doran.

  7. Bereft of detail, without which says very little. Why no mention of Small Modular Molten Salt Reactors? These operate at ambient pressure, are self regulating and the salt freezes in the event of any rupture; so nothing can get into the atmosphere.
    Otherwise- yes: the principle of small safe units dotted around is very sound.

  8. Paul Miskelly says:

    STT,
    You have done well to report here on the current state of so-called SMRs. That said, I am not so sure that this upbeat Popular Mechanics (PM) article is the best way to do it. Sadly this PM writer, in her enthusiasm to be upbeat about the latest and greatest, forgets that quite a number of the old reactors that she likes to rubbish as dinosaurs have recently been re-licensed to operate for another 20, 30, 50, years, simply because both, their operational safety record is so good, and the meticulous materials testing shows that their critical components – pressure vessels and the like – are still in top-class condition. Many of them have also been “uprated”, quite safely, as operational experience has been accumulated over many years so that, in spite of the Jimmy Carter -imposed ban on new nuclear construction, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of electricity generated by nuclear reactors in the US over the years. That is, they are each generating more power than that for which they were originally rated.

    So, that they are, “all going to age out of the system soon”, is complete and utter rubbish. That, “Like our aging and increasingly dangerous infrastructure, these nuclear plants need to be comprehensively updated or replaced, and soon.” is pure, utterly fictitious, nonsense.They have indeed been updated, and recently, by the NRC, the regulator. The claim also that this new SMR reactor technology is, “just wildly more efficient and up to date”, is also complete and utter rubbish. Apologies for sounding like a broken record, but these claims need to be treated with the disdain they deserve.

    US reactors presently have both the best operational safety records and the highest operational availability – see your comments STT above re 24/7 – of ANY form of electricity generation plant in the US, and indeed they challenge the performance of any form of generation facilities worldwide.

    Caroline also forgets that for a long time now that right there in the US there are already SMRs ready to go. The US Navy has the longest operational experience in operating what we fashionably like now to call “SMRs” of virtually anyone anywhere, (with of course the possible exception of the Russian submarine and icebreaker fleets). What does she think powers the US aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine fleets if they are not SMRs?

    However, my nit-picking with aspects of this PM article aside, let’s not forget that far and away the best means of generating electricity, bar none, is the use of nuclear reactor technology. The sad diversion of enormous amounts of money and resources into such as uselessly intermittent and futile wind and solar plants has simply demonstrated nuclear’s absolute and total superiority on all fronts that the renewables’ proponents would seek to claim for their own.

    STT, thank you and keep up the great work.

    Best regards,

    Paul Miskelly

    • To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than talking about nuclear power, is not talking about nuclear power.

    • Jeff Walther says:

      Basically, what Paul said. Existing plants are not out of date and are not ready to age out of existence.

      A “traditional” nuclear plant is a national treasure that can operate for 80 or even 100 years. Perhaps more. The original licensing period of 40 years was based on financial payback, not on expected engineering lifetime. At the time, there was no data on how long such a construction would last.

      Also, the claim that the new reactors are “much safer” is disingenuous. What is “much safer” than already ridiculously safe compared to every other energy source in existence including wind and solar?

      Nitpicking, the largest **reactors** do not top out at 8000 MW. Some large plants have eight reactors that add up to 8000 MW. Also, if a traditional reactor generates 1000 MW and an SMR generates 60, then you cannot replace 100 traditional reactors with 1000 SMRs. Even the simple math in the article is abysmal.

      Any mechanic with math that bad would not be popular.

      Also, no mention of the predictions that electricity from these shiny new toys will be substantially **more** expensive than from newly constructed “traditional” reactors. Traditional reactors cost a lot up front, but they have enormous economy of scale and super long operating lifetimes.

      How long will modular reactors last? I’ve seen discussion of just popping them on a truck and sending them back to a factory when it’s time to refuel. Will that end up costing a substantial fraction of the new cost? No data, so far.

      Pushing new nuclear technology by bashing existing, perfectly good, nuclear technology is a fools game. I expect better here.

      Yes, mentioning nuclear is better than ignoring it, but providing a forum for lies and misconceptions about nuclear is not a benevolent service.

  9. Submarines have had safe nuclear power since the 1950s: Captain Hyman Rickover’s design.

    There were zero radiation fatalities at Three Mile Island, & zero environmental damage.

    There was zero, or one radiation fatality at Fukushima, I’ve read both. There were thousands of Tsunami fatalities & hundreds of fatalities from the stupid & panicked govt order to evacuate.
    As for Chernobyl, we’d need a Chernobyl each & every day to equal the costs to human health & life that coal imposes.

    Yet our fake news MSM screams NUCLEAR DISASTER at us every chance the liars get. There are molten salt nuclear designs now which will use present day nuclear “waste”, as fuel, safely.

    Fools in govt & liars in the MSM are colluding with the malevolent 1%s who are set on the UN Agenda 21, Agenda 2030 global depopulation plot. They are intent on halting human progress & culling human numbers. Nuclear PhD engineer Robert Zubrin calls them, rightly, antihumanists. Their roots go back to the abysmal Malthus & the racist Darwin. His book is an eye-opener:
    Merchants Of Despair.

    John Doran.

  10. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  11. Reblogged this on Climate- Science.press.

  12. Hmm. It’s a bit short on detail, isn’t it ? What does it use for fuel? Uranium, Plutonium, Thorium? Have they actually BUILT one or just back-of-a-fag-packet’ed a design for one?

    Do you really think that anyone is going to let them build nukes down the road from housing estates? Get real – you’d have demonstrations that would make Franklin Dam look like a church meeting, and would last so long that they’d make Adani look like a T20 match

    I think we’ll never get one in a city in Aus until they have been installed and proven miles away at mining sites in the middle of the desert, for some years. So for the next generation we need a couple of new coal fired generators, or failing that some (expensive) gas generators.

    Sorry mate, this is not going to cut the mustard

    • Today, your PM announced more money for wind and solar and money for research on generating and storing hydrogen and research on carbon capture and storage, all aimed at cutting CO2 emissions. All of which means zero support for new coal-fired plants from the Coalition. So, sorry mate, now that Morrison is channelling Turnbull, you haven’t got a hope of getting any new coal plants.

      We’ll keep promoting nuclear as the only source that can deliver reliable and affordable power without emitting CO2. Because CO2 alarmists aren’t going away, and both sides of politics are going to continue pandering to them.

    • Graeme No.3 says:

      OldCynic:
      Most, if not all, nuclear systems can be adjusted to use thorium.
      As for a nuclear plant in the suburbs, how about Lucas Heights in Sydney? The surroundings were a large rubbish dump, but when that closed people rushed to buy cheap land there. Since then there has been persistent attempts to close the (new) reactor and stop the supply of essential medical isotopes.
      The radiactives use in medicine have a half life of hours, i.e. they lose their activity rapidly. Plutonium has a half life of 250,000 years i.e. it takes that time for anybody standing alongside it to get the same dose they get in the hospital (yes, there are toxicity problems as well)

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