Large, modern nuclear reactors can produce more than 1,000 megawatts worth of power, but cost around $7 billion to build. They must also pass vast amounts of safety procedures and certifications, especially after the Fukushima disaster last year.
Babcock & Wilcox, a one-time builder of large pressurized water reactors as well as smaller ones suitable for the submarines, have suggested that reducing the size and capacity of nuclear reactors, to about 180 megawatts, could improve safety and reduce the cost. The reactors would be produced in a modular fashion, with all parts being assembled in a factory and then shipped to the required sites. B&W believe that the major hurdle facing the nuclear industry is the huge expense, and therefore financial risk, of constructing a reactor; an expense that would take years to earn back.
The Department of Energy (DoE) has made $450 million available to fund the engineering and licenses of these small modular reactors with the aim of creating and linking the modular reactors to the grid by 2022.
The US government still pursues traditional large reactors. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that, “the Obama Administration and the Energy Department are committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every source of American energy, including nuclear power. The Energy Department and private industry are working to position America as the leader in advanced nuclear energy technology and manufacturing.”
B&W’s have said that their modular reactor will be 25 meters tall by 4 meters wide because they “wanted to be able to put it on a rail car” for transport. It will be virtually completely self-contained in order to increase the safety, and designed to be buried underground to act as protection “from external events like tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.”
However, the B&W reactor is not the only example of this technology being developed. Companies such as: Westinghouse Electric, NuScale, and Holtec are also researching the small modular reactors. Aris Candris, CEO of Westinghouse, said that, “the advantage of the smaller one (nuclear reactor) is: even if you need 1000 megawatts you can put investment in piecemeal and generate money while the next unit is put in.” Although as Fukushima showed the world, having several reactors linked together can cause a crisis, as a problem with one can cause a chain reaction.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com