US nuclear regulator greenlights its first small modular reactor

US nuclear regulator greenlights its first small modular reactor
The NuScale SMR design places between 4-12 small modular reactor units together in a water bath, each mass-produced at low cost in a factory
The NuScale SMR design places between 4-12 small modular reactor units together in a water bath, each mass-produced at low cost in a factory
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The NuScale SMR design places between 4-12 small modular reactor units together in a water bath, each mass-produced at low cost in a factory
The NuScale SMR design places between 4-12 small modular reactor units together in a water bath, each mass-produced at low cost in a factory
Diagram of NuScale SMR
Diagram of NuScale SMR

The first small modular reactor (SMR) design has been approved for certification by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). NuScale's tidy reactor design promises safe, clean energy at radically reduced cost, land use and installation time.

The NRC released news last week that its staff have been directed to make a final rule certifying the NuScale reactor design for use in the United States. This is just the seventh design approved by the NRC since it was established in 1974, and the first of a coming wave of technologies designed to make nuclear power cheaper, easier and safer to implement than ever before.

The keys to this small modular reactor's advantages lie in its small size and modularity. Rather than having to build each reactor on site, custom designed for the location, NuScale can mass-manufacture its light water reactor modules in a factory and then ship them worldwide for a relatively quick and painless installation.

Each roughly cylindrical module stands around 65 ft (20 m) high, with a 9-foot (2.7-m) diameter, and produces 77 megawatts by pushing steam out through a turbine. A given power plant could run anywhere between four and 12 of these modules, submerged in a water tank, so an overall power station will be good for between 308 and 924 MW. Nuclear will be a key baseline generator for renewables-based power grids in many areas, and NuScale says its mass production capabilities will make it cost-competitive even with some fossil-fueled options.

Diagram of NuScale SMR
Diagram of NuScale SMR

Like most other generation IV nuclear designs, the NuScale plant is designed to shut itself down safely in an emergency without any operator input or power requirements. The feedwater and steam exit valves will close in the event of an emergency situation, and a secondary set of valves will open to depressurize steam from the reactor core into the containment vessel surrounding the reactor. As this steam condenses, it'll be taken back into the core and circulated through this process again. NuScale says this'll put the plant in a stable, safe shutdown, and that if anything goes catastrophically wrong, the giant water tank housing the reactor modules, with its concrete roof, provides a final line of defense designed to be earthquake-proof and impermeable to aircraft impacts.

The plant's passive safety measures and tiny ground footprint compared with current nuclear plants make it possible – in the company's opinion, anyway – to put these plants much closer to where the energy's used, cutting down on transmission costs and losses.

The first NuScale power plant is set to begin generating power in 2029, with all six of its modules due to come online in 2030. Located at the Idaho National Laboratory, the Carbon Free Power Project will generate some 462 MW, much of which is already contracted to be sold to power distribution companies for a 40-year period.

This final rule on certification will be the final step in a process NuScale initiated in 2016. Check out some information on the Carbon Free Power Project and NuScale SMR in the video below.

The Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP)

Source: US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Editor's note: this piece was updated August 3, 2022, in response to requests from NuScale. The company does not view its technology as a "Generation IV" nuclear reactor.

I respectfully remind you of my previous comments + those of others, various and many,
to both your esteamed organ + to pub's various other,
concerning the security of various previously proposed nuclear gen' 'mini-site' schemes:
ie. The Opinion Common:
They cannot be left as stand-alone and unguarded.
Say it after me: ‘safe and effective’.
S Redford
In the UK, Rolls Royce plc is leading a similar SMR design consortium to offer reactors producing 220MW to 440MW and has been working on this technology since the early 1990’s, drawing on nuclear submarine expertise.
ref S. Redford State:
Errrrrr - etc.
A proven tech' even with the magic 'RR' label on it does nothing to negate the security risk if the place of use is removed to an unguarded site.

Discounting war damage as would be common to both proposed isolated land sites + the boats:
Submarines tend to have lots of jolly jack-tars happily horn-piping around 24/7, that even when tied-up in what is, as far as known, to be only in a secured dockyard.
Said bods would get

ie. My + others published sentiments ref the transference of mssrs RR/Others reactor tech' to stand alone unguarded shore based sites stands.
Bob Stuart
Even if this is "cheaper, easier, and safer" than previous nukes, it has a very long way to go to be as cheap, easy, and safe as renewables. These are just the dying fantasy of an obsolete industry that will be costing future generations heavily in either waste containment or cancer and mutations.
S Redford
There seems to be an unrealistic knee-jerk reaction to these proposals! Unless someone can find a truly safe, huge capacity, storage technology (without a lot of toxic materials) to add to a huge amount of renewables, or an unrealistic carbon-capture (safe?) option for fossil fuel generation, then nuclear is the way forward in conjunction with renewables. The SMR approach is an eminently sensible solution rather than uncontrollable costs and risks of a few massive nuclear stations in remote locations. We need something to keep the lights on, the EV’s charged, run the Heat-Pumps, and…!
So many armchair experts desperately clinging to their outdated ideological bent against nuclear. It's actually kind of adorable in a way how they only trust science that confirms their biases while ignoring everything else.
The anti-nuke kooks will oppose this with every fiber of their being.
Yeah well, RE: to the post, not the article itself. What does is matter? The end of time is almost here anyway. What we use or don't use as a power source is soon to be a moot point.
Great article Loz. I look forward to implementation in a low environmentally impactful manner here in the USA. Thanks!
(oh, for the fraidy-cats, maybe we can just put these in low income neighborhoods at least 10 miles from your back yard and underground in bunkers similar to the missile silos so you will agree with the stipulations imposed on the manufacture and placement of these devices which will end up coming somewhat from your tax dollars - as well as with mine).
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