Nuclear Energy Could Be Smaller, Cheaper And Safer

Building smaller, simpler, cheaper nuclear energy power plants rather than the former larger, complicated and expensive ones of the past can be done says NuScale Power which is based in Oregon.

NuScale Power’s design of using small modular reactors can also be used as a back-up to renewable energy sources like wind and solar when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Currently there are 98 nuclear reactors generating nuclear powered electricity in the US which are large and several are at risk of being closed down in the next 10 years due to difficult competition against natural gas and renewable energy. 

Jose Reyes, who is the chief technology officer and co-founder of NuScale says that rather than the previous design of using one big nuclear reactor, its plans will be to string together a series of 12 smaller reactors. 

Reyes also says that the construction schedule of building NuScale Power plants can be cut in half because the reactors can be built in a factory then transported to the location of the plant while the site itself is being prepared.

Karin Feldman, who is the vice president for NuScale Power’s Program Management Office says that their design is simplified in several ways making them safer to operate based on research of older plant systems and removing any modes for potential failure such as the disaster of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

NuScale Power’s design uses passive cooling underground which means that even if a reactor fails it would still be safe because it won’t require additional water, AC or DC power or human operator action and that it can remain safe in that setup for as long as needed.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, which serves 46 member utilities in six Western states was looking for a carbon-free source of electricity back-up when wind or solar power would not be available and NuScale Power’s design it turns out will fit the need.

NuScale Power’s first design will be built at the Idaho National Lab providing power to the lab and also to UAMPS with plans for it to be built and operating by 2026.

NuScale Power cleared the first phase for safety review for licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Edwin Lyman, who is the acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists expresses concern that NuScale Power is asking for lots of exemptions and exceptions because the company passionately believes its design is so much safer and doesn’t have to meet the safety criteria as larger reactors. He argues that although NuScale Power will use a passive safety design something still could go wrong and he will be among others watching regulators closely.