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The nuclear power industry has faced a tough time since March 2011, when an earthquake and tidal wave hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant causing a meltdown in three of its reactors. Many countries have lost interest in nuclear power, whilst others have increased the safety regulations regarding nuclear power plants.
In order to improve the safety of nuclear reactors, and reduce the chance of a meltdown, people have been researching and inventing new designs for producing energy from nuclear fusion reaction.
The NY Times has written an article detailing one idea that could become popular, that of Jose N. Reyes, co-founder and chief technology officer at NuScale Power. Who has designed a nuclear reactor that is so small, that if any problems were to occur, then the core would be small enough to cool on its own, in a fairly in a short space of time.
Related article: California’s Nuclear Headache is Only Just Beginning
The reactor is basically just a mini version of reactors that are being built at traditional power plants across the US, which tower over 200 feet into the air and 120 feet in diameter. Reyes’ design, housed in a sealed container, would measure just 80 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter, producing approximately one twentieth of the power of normal reactors.
NuScale Power’s reactor design.
The compact size of the reactors allows them to be submerged in giant 10 million gallon tanks of water, which Reyes claims will reduce the chance of a meltdown to a thousandth of those of conventional reactors.
During a computer simulation, NuScale Power demonstrated that if a pump failed in the reactor and the water began to boil over, the steam would hit the walls of the container, which are kept permanently cool due to the giant water tank that it is submersed in, and then condense, and fall as water back down into the reactor chamber, cooling the reactor once more. They claim that this makes their reactor completely safe, and virtually immune to meltdowns.
Related article: How Our Inability to Calculate Risk Opened the Doors for Fukushima
NuScale Power has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a permit to begin production, one day hoping to begin commercial sales in the US. Unfortunately achieving a license to produce the reactors could cost as much as $1 billion.
Some critics have claimed that even with a license from the NRC, the designs may prove worthless. The tiny size of the reactors means that they produce far less power, so investors need to be convinced that this design will require less stringent containment structures, smaller evacuation zones, and fewer personnel to operate them. If not, then economies of scale suggest that building larger reactors will be more profitable.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com