Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Small Modular Reactors--Fun and Exciting--What are the Options and Timelines?

Small modular reactors were a hot topic at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) annual meeting.  Attendance was good and people were interested.  The designs are fun and use various technology. From LWRs to liquid sodium to liquid metal PbBi cooled reactors.  LWRs have the advantage of known technology and known regulations which should lead to faster regulatory approval, but suffer from shorter refueling times.  Liquid metal reactors operate at low pressure and do not need refueling for decades, but may require additional design and regulatory time.  

Much has been said regarding small modular reactors.  My goal is to list the players with highlights of each design and some estimated timelines.

What is the need?
Most of the world's electrical grids are small.  One single source of power generation should not exceed 10-15% of the grid size or risk stability and power concerns when the one large plant goes offline.  The "standard" reactor produces 1 to 1.6 GWe and cost and estimated $5B+ and 84 months to build.

There is a an application for small modular reactors that can be built quickly and delivered onsite with fuel intact and ready to go.  The small size could be used for power or for desalination. Most designs are modular in that you can add more than one to increase output slowly as needed.  Construction of the "standard" reactor includes large forgings and significant resources for movement and construction of the large components.  Small reactors are mostly skid built at the factory and shipped in using existing US or small factory construction and forging capabilities.

Information from Rod Adams in his post from the Platts Modular Reactor Meeting.

"Three vendors - NuScale, B&W, and Westinghouse Electric Company - each with a variation of integral Pressurized Water Reactors (iPWR), provided some details about their design concepts and the maturity of their technology. There is a general agreement that these three designs - the 45 MWe NuScale, the 125 MWe mPowerTM, and the 300 MWe IRIS - are the ones that are closest to being ready to move through an NRC licensing process."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

BP vs. Nuclear Industry-there is no comparison (Repost from Rod Adams)

A couple of key points that I thought really hit home from this post by Rod Adams from the Energy Collective:


--start of original post--

The situation in well-run nuclear energy production operations is far removed from that of an exploratory well drilled in deep water by a group of people who were driven by short term concerns about daily expenditures that totaled a few million dollars - at most. Of course, there are perpetual doubters who ask - how can we be certain that the operations will be well run, but those doubters need to understand that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a strong, independent and effective regulator that provides the suspenders that add a third layer of checking to the belt (INPO) and snug pants (careful design, effective quality control and trained operators) that the industry already provides to itself.

There is a lesson from the Deepwater Horizon that should be applied to nuclear energy; we need to continually remind ourselves of the importance of taking the long term view and refusing to go along with people who focus on short term profits produced by cutting costs without full recognition of the associated risks. Even with all of the existing processes and systems in place, eternal vigilance is needed to guard against human foibles like greed, even if those weaknesses find their way into the executive suite.

I cannot imagine how stupid the folks responsible for influencing and directly making the decisions on that drilling rig must feel as they watch tens of millions of dollars per day worth of oil spew out into uncontrolled areas. Not only is that revenue producing material failing to be captured, but it is causing billions of dollars of damage that their very large, well established and formerly profitable company is responsible for fixing.

I hope they keep asking themselves - what was our hurry? Why did we push so hard to cut so many corners and ignore so many warning signs that we were approaching dangerous territory? Was saving a million or two million dollars per day worth the damage that we did to a reservoir that was pretty obviously an "elephant" and to a region that was a paradise on earth for many of its inhabitants?

(By the way - in any kind of fair world, those decision makers who encouraged the cost cutting behavior would end up penniless and wiling away the rest of their lives in jail.)
--End of original post--