Energy

US regulatory thumbs up brings small modular nuclear reactors a step closer

The SMR nuclear plants rely on a modular reactor design
The SMR nuclear plants rely on a modular reactor design
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The NuScale SMR is designed to be factory built
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The NuScale SMR is designed to be factory built
Outline of the NuScale SMR system
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Outline of the NuScale SMR system
The SMR nuclear plants rely on a modular reactor design
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The SMR nuclear plants rely on a modular reactor design
The NuScale SMR compared to a conventional reactor
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The NuScale SMR compared to a conventional reactor
The NuScale SMR 's environmental and security barriers
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The NuScale SMR 's environmental and security barriers
The NuScale SMR control room (simulated)
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The NuScale SMR control room (simulated)
Diagram of NuScale SMR
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Diagram of NuScale SMR
The NuScale SMR cross section
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The NuScale SMR cross section

The first small modular reactor (SMR) application has passed an intensive Phase 1 review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), potentially marking the next chapter in civilian nuclear power in the US. The okay of the reactor Design Certification Application (DCA) for Britain-based NuScale Power means that plans can progress for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems' 12-module SMR plant in Idaho, which is scheduled to go online in the middle of the next decade.

According to NuScale, the SMR design underwent 115,000 hours of review by the NRC , with the small number of requests for more information a reflection of the reactor's simplicity. Along with the certification, the US Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy awarded NuScale a cost-sharing financial assistance package worth US$40 million under its "US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development" program.

The SMR is designed to replace the one or more giant reactors in current nuclear power plants with smaller modular ones that can be assembled at a central facility and then shipped to the site for installation. Each 76 x 15 ft (23 x 5 m) module has a thermal capacity of 160 MWt and generates 50 MW of electricity, yet weighs only about 700 tons and costs less than US$5,100/KW.

Diagram of NuScale SMR
Diagram of NuScale SMR

These modules can run for a year without refueling and are scalable, so a single reactor can serve small, sparsely populated regions, while larger installations can operate dozens. The hope is that modular designs will not only lower the cost of nuclear power, but improve their environmental profile and allow them to operate without the intense regulatory burden of present designs, which have prevented any new building permits from being awarded in 40 years.

"We are thankful for the rigorous review of our revolutionary nuclear design and greatly appreciate the government recognizing the importance of furthering NuScale's advancement," says NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins. "Our technology means significant economic and job benefits for the country and it's positioned to revitalize the domestic nuclear industry by virtue of NuScale's affordable, flexible, and safe solution to providing zero-carbon energy."

Source: NuScale

13 comments
highlandboy
Removing pumps and relying on convection significantly reduces the volume and mass of items that have to be stored safely for 5000 years. However, it would be likely to decrease the responsiveness to increase/decrease power output. Great for base load, but not suitable for meeting peak demand. Greater use of fusion reactions and various storage mechanisms are likely to be more cost effective in the long run. After all the sun is hardly likely to run out of power any time soon.
JimFox
Good news indeed, regulatory approval normally takes up to 10 years or so? A step in the right direction but still a PWR with high- level waste. Liquid fuels are the best because fuel fabrication costs are eliminated, for one thing. I have no confidence that fusion will be realized commercially, based on cost- which is far above unaffordable existing reactors. WHY are they persisting with improbable technology? ITER is estimated to have final price of £20 Billion-& it won't even produce useable electricity!
Deres
Strange, there is no corium container Under the reactor ... And I do not see any protection against overheating the pool around the reactor. There should be at least a way to expulse "safely" the vapor outside the building with a chimney ...
Bob Stuart
This is still far too expensive within our lifetimes, and a deadly problem for all future life. Nuclear power is a fascinating idea, but the fission products tell us to keep it in the lab. I challenge these companies to offer examples of other industries where a similar change in scale has even been tried, let alone succeeded.
Jeff Goldstein
Seems like a great idea. It is too bad the approval process is so slow. What is really needed are small modular nuclear power plants like this that are breeder reactors so they can produce future fuel and not have as much radioactive waste
McDesign
Conceptually, I hate that these are still "steam engines". We are making heat to create a pressure differential to move a mechanical device to move an electromagnetic device to create the movement of electrons in a wire. I dream of some way of going more directly from atomic particle movement moving the electrons in a wire. Dunno' how yet . . .
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The fuel value of the used fuel elements is what makes them difficult to store. Beryllium fuel elements get around this somewhat by eliminating hot spots. B&W M-Power seems to be farther along than this. The Third World can't get these units fast enough. The ITER design has low temperature super conducting tape frozen into it. Existing high temperature tape could reduce the size by a factor of 3 or increase the Q from 1.1 to 10.
nick101
About time! I live in Ontario which gets over 60% of it's energy through old school reactors which are costing untold billions to refurbish.
michael_dowling
highlandboy: Sorry,fusion will never be an economical power source: https://thebulletin.org/fusion-reactors-not-what-they%e2%80%99re-cracked-be10699
Michael Dexter
This company is actually based in Oregon, USA. It started from a professor and group of students at Oregon State University. For those in the comments that said this is fusion. This is not fusion this is a fission reactor. It is walkaway safe and is a scaleable and modular which greatly reduces the complexity and cost. The reason that this is steam based is that the efficiency of a rankine cycle (~31%) is much better than direct thermoelectric materials (<12%). That is a big deal if there was a high efficiency thermoelectric material than that would be great but it has yet to be discovered despite a huge force of theoretical physicists, material scientists and chemists who are laboring tirelessly. What we really need to do is insist on power plants being located so that they can achieve combined heat and power which greatly boosts their effectiveness.