What energy technology is portable, powerful and prefabricated? Small modular reactors are generating buzz as federal officials co-fund a project that could transform the U.S. nuclear industry.
12:26PM EST November 27. 2012 - A new generation of nuclear reactor is scheduled to launch in the United States within a decade, potentially transforming the U.S. nuclear industry. But critics question its safety, given last year's meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and recent flooding from Superstorm Sandy.
These small modular reactors (SMRs), about a third the physical size of traditional ones, would be portable and built mostly in factories. They got a boost last week from the Department of Energy, which announced it would pay up to half the cost to design and license the first ones for the U.S. commercial market. ...
... "You can put them together like Legos on a job site," Mowry says. "The industry likes building blocks of this size," he says, likening the heft of each to a tanker truck. He expects a two-reactor plant generating a total of 360 megawatts of power to cost $1.5 billion to build — about a tenth of the projected cost of a two-reactor, 2,000-megawatt plant the NRC approved earlier this year for Georgia.
Another benefit, Mowry says, is safety. He says it can operate for two weeks without outside power and has fewer parts and pipes so is less likely to malfunction. "Our reactor is totally underground," he says, adding it's not disturbed by hurricanes and tornadoes. ...
... TerraPower, a start-up partially funded by software mogul Bill Gates, is developing a larger, 500-megawatt, "traveling wave" reactor. Company CEO John Gilleland says it's on track to deploy its first reactor in the 2020s.
Genoa says U.S.-based companies are furthest along in developing small reactors, which he says many countries want. He says the U.S. has a chance to recapture its lead in nuclear technology, adding, "'This race is ours to lose."