Modular Nuclear Reactors
Proposed small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) could revitalize the nuclear industry in the United States, assuming their costs can be substantially below the $6,000 per KW cost of traditional nuclear power plants, such as those being built in Georgia and South Carolina.
NuScale is the first SMR to file a design certification application for any SMR with the NRC. This puts NuScale ahead of other SMR proposals. The B&W mPower SMR proposal seems to be languishing.
As announced by NuScale, “[its] SMR is economic, factory built and shippable. It’s flexible enough to desalinate seawater, refine oil, load-follow wind, produce hydrogen, flexible to grow to any size, and that provides a reactor that cannot meltdown.”
The potential for lowering cost by constructing modules in a factory setting, and the ability to size completed installations to any requirement by constructing additional modules, makes the SMR concept very attractive.
Each NuScale module would be rated 50 MW, with the ability to group several modules together to form units as large as 600 MW.
Whether the public will accept SMRs and whether their cost can be kept well below the cost of constructing traditional reactors are critical to the SMRs’ future.
Another type of SMR was recently promoted by ThorCon. Its reactor is a molten salt reactor based on the molten salt reactor experiment (MSRE). These modules would also be located underground.
The ThorCon proposal is also flexible, with the potential to construct a 1,000 MW unit using multiple modules.
ThorCon made no mention of NRC approvals, so, while intriguing, more must be known about the status of the design before commenting further.
- The NuScale design appears to be farthest along in obtaining NRC approvals, though several years work remains before units can be built.
- The SMR concept holds promise for a revitalized nuclear power industry, but only if construction costs can be kept well below $6,000 per KW.
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