Mini Nukes Touted as Solution for Climate

January 7, 2014

I’m open to new ideas – but I just think renewables are moving so quickly that technologies like these will be hard pressed to catch up.
Also, for libertarian nuke lovers and haters of all things gubbmint, note US subsidies to this technology, and consider whether the average developing world village will be able to afford installing one without massive help.

Ready, aim, …discuss.

AP via Huffington:

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that it has awarded an Oregon company a grant to help it design and obtain federal approval for a kind of nuclear power plant – small modular units that can be built in a factory and shipped to installation sites.

The department said the matching grant awarded to NuScale Power LLC of Portland is part of President Barack Obama’s plan to develop power sources that do not contribute to global warming.

“Small modular reactors represent a new generation of safe, reliable, low-carbon nuclear energy technology and provide a strong opportunity for America to lead this emerging global industry,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement.

The amount of the grant is not yet set, but it comes out of a $452 million fund for supporting small modular reactor development, the department said. It will cover up to half the cost of producing a design that gains federal approval.

NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Michael McGough said modular reactors are the future of nuclear power, because they are more affordable, safer and faster to build than conventional plants. Instead of pumps to move coolant, the design uses gravity, making it more reliable.

The company hopes to have the design certified by 2019 and the first commercially operational project working by 2023 at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, McGough said.

One of the modules would produce about 45 megawatts, compared with 1,000 megawatts from a conventional plant, McGough said. They would be small enough to be shipped on special trucks, railroad cars, or barges, and could be installed in groups of up to 12. A 540-megawatt installation would cost about $2 billion, compared with $10 billion or more for a conventional 1,000-megawatt plant.

Climate News Network:

LONDON, 7 January – The race is on to develop a new breed of small nuclear reactors that will be operated underground and need refuelling as seldom as once a decade.

Small modular reactors – or SMRs, as they are known – are seen by the nuclear power industry as the most promising technology of the future because they avoid many of the safety problems of much larger power plants and are also easier and quicker to construct.

Underground, they would be less vulnerable to terrorist attack and have cooling systems that could keep them safe for seven days without human intervention.

The industry already has 20 competing designs on offer. Some see the reactors working in tandem with renewables to provide electricity for remote communities that currently rely on polluting diesel generators. This would reduce local pollution and combat climate change.

The trend in the nuclear industry until now has been to build bigger and bigger reactors. Currently the largest of all, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPRS), is planned to produce 1,600 megawatts (the average daily electricity consumption of a US home is 1,200 watts), but it has run into trouble. The two under construction in Finland and France are years behind schedule and over budget.

Easy to build

The industry claims the new reactors would avoid the safety fears associated with the Fukushima accident in Japan because they are simpler and smaller. They will also be factory-built in kit form, ready to be erected on site, and so will avoid the construction delays and vast capital costs of large reactors.

To qualify as an SMR the new breed of reactors has to produce less than 300 megawatts, but some smaller designs will produce as little as 25 megawatts of power – about the same as five large wind turbines.

Critics of nuclear technology will be sceptical of yet another plan to revive the industry, which has become both unpopular following the Fukushima accident and uneconomic against most other fuels, particularly in the US, where gas is so cheap.

However, it is the US Government that is keenest on these reactors. It is providing 50% of development costs to compete with Russia and Korea in the field and believes there is a big market for small power plants that can be built in a factory and then transported to wherever they need to operate.

Small island power

The Russians are offering a version of the reactors they have used to power nuclear submarines, and will mount them on barges to be transported and plugged in wherever they are needed. They also offer at the end of their use to take them back to Russia without leaving a legacy of waste to the customer.

One of the American companies, Gen4 Energy, is developing a 25 megawatt reactor which it says would be perfect to provide power for 170 of the world’s small islands and over 100 remote US Government facilities that need power. The company says the electricity would be far cheaper than that produced by diesel generators – and climate-friendly as well.

Part of the appeal of the newer designs is that they can be shipped in kit form and installed in remote locations to power factories, mines, military bases or to help communities not attached to the grid.

They can also be used in groups of three or four, being refueled in turn so there is no loss of supply. They could also be hooked up to local grids to be used in conjunction with renewables like wind and solar.

Unlike their giant cousins that are designed to run all the time to provide base load electricity for large power grids in industrialised countries, the makers claim, these new reactors can reduce power output to fit in with demand fluctuations and inputs from intermittent renewables.

The World Nuclear Association’s most optimistic estimate is that there could be as many as 96 SMRs up and running by 2030, although according to the Association’s assessment none of them would be in the United States.

The US has other ideas, however, and in the last two years has put up $452 million to fund 50% of the development costs of two competing designs by two of the companies promoting the technology, NuScaleand Gen4 Energy.

Both these designs and many other competing ideas for SMRs will be on show at the Small Modular Reactor Conference, at Charlotte, North Carolina in the United States at the end of March. – Climate News Network


66 Responses to “Mini Nukes Touted as Solution for Climate”

  1. Its just the reactor, not everything in the picture. The advantage of SMRs is factory construction. NuScale ships more already built. SMRs differ by manufacturer. Babcock and Wilcox design delivers the NSSS, nuclear steam supply system to the site. The rest is constructed on site, including digging the hole. Parts of the B n W design are factory made, but there is much construction at the site. The NuScale design is heavy, 500 tons. It may rail ship, but not by much.

    • Its just the reactor, not everything in the picture. The advantage of SMRs is factory construction.

      That’s also the expensive, highly-regulated part.  The rest, steam turbines and condensers and such, perform the same functions in the same way as turbines and condensers in CCGTs.  I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that B&W’s choice of exact specifications for the mPower, which changed power rating several times during development, was strongly influenced by the specs of an OTS steam turbine and condenser.  That would make it cheaper and probably available with higher quality and less lead time.

      The rest is constructed on site, including digging the hole.

      Nobody’s yet found a way to factory-dig a hole and transport it to the installation site.  Neat idea, though.  Maybe you can be the first to make it work.

  2. Reblogged this on ScottishSceptic and commented:
    I think I got there first:- in a letter on 10 December 2009 in the Irish Independent (
    As I listen to the claims of Climate Chaos, with its “imminent threat” and undeniable evidence, I wonder where I have heard this all before.
    Wasn’t it Tony Blair who also told us that there was an imminent threat?

    A threat so serious that we could not gamble, that we had to invade Iraq on the “precautionary principle” to prevent weather . . . sorry I mean weapons of mass destruction.

    This is what happens when experts/scientists become politicised. The spin doctors come in, the evidence gets sexed up to “hide the decline” and in the end the public is misled.

    Following the latest revelations on Climategate there is now very little doubt that these ‘scientists’ have been adjusting the temperature data in a way that can not be explained in scientific terms.

    If people really feel we “can’t gamble” with the minuscule bit of warming we saw in the 20th century and believe it really amounts to the greatest problem in the world, why aren’t they shouting out the obvious solution?

    The “scientists” themselves tell us that the reduction in atmospheric pollution from particulates (smoke) which had blocked out the sun led to an increase in global temperatures in the 1970s.

    Have the environmentalists forgotten their nuclear winter caused by sun-blocking dust being taken up into the atmosphere? Why aren’t they telling the public they already have the solution: get rid of the clean air acts, bring back that lovely sun-blocking smog!

    Hypocrites all of them! We don’t need to gamble, we already have the solution and if any environmentalist can’t believe how quickly we can fix all this manmade CO2 they should go to a small offshore island, where we can detonate a few nuclear bombs and demonstrate how quickly we can get rid of this global warming scare.
    Mike Haseler
    Irish Independent

    • greenman3610 Says:

      thanks for making that so clear!

    • Mike sounds like an SNP member, expecting to play the part of Scottie Arabia to Merry Olde England after independence.  (Why he’s touting Irish party membership from Glasgow, he’ll have to explain.)

      The joke is on him.  The North Sea deposits are all but gone, squandered in an export-paradise haze starting not long after Jethro Tull’s hit “North Sea Oil” made the rock charts.  Scotland would be left with a lot of aging physical plant, fields rapidly growing uneconomic to produce and plenty of expenses for plugging and capping the wells and removing the platforms and pipelines.

      Even if he’s right, he’s got the time scales all wrong.  You can throw up lots of aerosols and cut temperatures for a little while, but the CO2 doesn’t equilibrate with the oceans for 1000 years and weathering doesn’t catch up for a million years.

      Maybe Mike likes the idea of a nuclear war every few years.  I’d rather spend the fissionables on electric power and process heat, and find ways to leverage industrial processes to create carbon sinks that could return the atmosphere to something sensible in a few decades.

  3. Here is a paper with more info than you ever wanted:)

    Click to access RE_Technologies_Cost_Analysis-WIND_POWER.pdf

    The cost to install is relatively simple 1.3 to 2.2 M/MW nameplate. The capacity factor varies from 0.2 to 0.45. Capacity factor is one way, but not the best way to calculate kwhr generated, because wind output is velocity cubed. The Midwest is nirvana for generation. Without fancy math and studies the best way is just measure the total annual energy generated? Turbines keep getting cheaper and better. So the simplistic, rough calculation uses capacity factor, but is off. Just don’t multiply nameplate by hours. O and M, and distribution are a low percentage of installed cost so you can scale the installed cost from there. DOE rates wind at about $ 0.07/kwhr.

  4. we dont know how to manage the waste and the contamination. apply to exponential growth an nah.

  5. Addressing Arcus again:

    You have flat demand over years mixed up with daily and annual demand variation. The demand drop or flattening is long term, not short.

    You still haven’t told me why this is an excuse for removing our only expandable, dispatchable carbon-free generation from the grid.  If you wanted to cut the burning of fossil fuels you’d run nuclear at max whenever feasible, and wind/PV would be curtailed as necessary to keep the grid running smoothly.

    You would NOT push to replace uranium with natural gas, but that’s what you’re doing.  So what’s your REAL agenda?

    Nuclear has subsidies.

    Any actual payouts are still in the future; the terms for loan guarantees have been so onerous all builders have passed them up.  In the mean time, just getting the waste-disposal fee suspended for nonfeasance has taken Federal lawsuits.

    Wind ptc is gone this year.

    It’s useless if there are no profits to offset, and the 30% investment tax credit is still on the books.

    What do you want, legislation outlawing RE, and forcing consumers to have more expensive energy?

    Oooh, projection.  YOU want consumers forced to use expensive but “renewable” energy, using hidden subsidies such as mandates and net metering.  I want the industrial economies de-carbonized, using the fastest and thus most cost-effective measures we’ve got… and for those economies to remain industrialized, so we have some chance to fix our mistakes before the whole world suffers for them.  YOU refuse to discuss actual achievements in decarbonization.  I think that’s the only thing worth talking about.

    I think we should be building EVs like crazy, and using their charging to run carbon-free nuclear plants at max to push carbon-based motor fuels out of the market.  YOU are silent on the issue.  So what’s your REAL agenda?


  6. What evidence do you need to understand that electric demand is down and business is trying to dump capacity – all capacity?

    What evidence do you need to understand that policy is just moving demand to the BRICs, and China alone is adding 1 GW of coal-fired generation EVERY WEEK?  What evidence do you need to understand that even such transfer is no excuse to re-carbonize the US grid in the name of “renewables”?

    Baseload is expensive and needs healthy demand growth to pay its mortgage.

    The capital cost of baseload is justified because it’s supposed to run 24/7 on the cheapest energy, minimizing overall cost.  Shoving expensive ($6000 and up per average kilowatt) energy onto the grid and putting it in front of carbon-free baseload in the dispatch order is both environmentally and economically insane.  So what’s your REAL agenda?

    when loads stop growing, the operational inflexibility of a large coal or nuclear plant becomes a liability.

    There’s your REAL agenda:  getting rid of nuclear energy.  “Too inflexible” works great as an excuse, when you can mandate any amount of “flexibility” by adding unreliable generation to more than 100% of immediate demand.  A 30% “portfolio standard” with a 30% capacity factor will be able to exceed 100% of demand in off-peak periods.  Replacing the quiet atomic water-boiler with a fossil-burner is an anti-nuclear triumph and an environmental atrocity.

    Know what I want?  To list just one thing, I want the 2 trillion LDV miles driven every year in the USA to be mostly or entirely electrified and decarbonized.  Figuring 350 Wh/mi for the current truck-heavy vehicle mix, it takes about 700 TWh/yr to do the job.  Supplying that in 10 hours per day takes roughly 200 GW(e), call it 220 GW at 90% capacity factor.  That eliminates the emissions from 130 billion gallons of gasoline every year, and also knocks 200 GW of other supply off the grid the other 14 hours of the day.

    Right there you’ve got a strong environmental case to build 200 AP1000 reactors in the USA alone.  What’s your excuse for not being solidly behind it?

    • stephengn1 Says:

      I think you are looking for an agenda where there is none. Peter makes his position quite clear with this sentence –

      “I just think renewables are moving so quickly that technologies like these will be hard pressed to catch up.”

      Many quite responsible people agree. Nuclear plants take a long time to build and are quite expensive. Renewables have a clear and rapid downward pricing slope and a clear and rapid upward efficiency slope, simultaneously.

      • dumboldguy Says:


      • Peter makes his position quite clear

        That was addressed to Arcus, which was stated at the top of the first of the pair (with a hyperlink to the source of the quotes).

        “I just think renewables are moving so quickly that technologies like these will be hard pressed to catch up.”

        Except they’re not moving to displace carbon.  Germany’s “Energiewende” has actually gone backwards in this respect over the last year or so, with gas and nuclear plants scheduled to be replaced by lignite (!!).  All sorts of new wind, all sorts of new PV… carbon emissions increase.

        Ultimately (past the century mark, give or take) that is what matters most.  Methane oxidizes in 11 years.  Nitrous oxide degrades in 120.  But CO2 takes 1000 years to equilibrate with the oceans, and a million to be removed by weathering.

        The disconnect between “renewables” and actual carbon reductions has become so blatant that the European Commission has just doubled the reduction targets to 40% and reduced renewable mandates to recommendations, allowing the use of nuclear energy to meet the targets.  It will no longer matter how it’s done, so long as it gets done.  That’s the only way to get it done.

        Nuclear plants take a long time to build and are quite expensive.

        This is due to policy, not engineering.  Here’s one example of the way policy delayed construction schedules for nuclear plants:

        It can be seen that the average period necessary to obtain a construction permit varies from 10 months for plants docketed in 1965, to 22 months for plants docketed in 1972 and reaches a maximum of 38 months for the plants docketed in 1971.

        38 months.  More than THREE YEARS to get approval in 1971, when it took 10 months in 1965.

        How much wind would be built, if it took 38 months to get approval for a wind farm and its grid connections?  How much if “intervenors” could use “wind turbine syndrome” to tie up projects for years in hearings and lawsuits?

        I live a mere 30 miles from the site of a decommissioned BWR.  A municipal utility practically next door to me scratched the idea of building a wood-burning powerplant and is now looking for power to replace contracts that are expiring.  I would be THRILLED if policy allowed that old site to host a 4-pack or 6-pack of mPowers, and power this whole region with carbon-free electricity.  All we need is policy that goes from application to approval in 10 months… again.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: