SMRs – Why Not Now? Then When?

I have shamelessly borrowed the title of one of the talks given during the first day of the Nuclear Energy Insider 4th Annual Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Conference as being representative of both the rest of the agenda and the conversations that I had in the hallways during the breaks.

For the past five years, a relatively small band of stalwarts has been gathering several times per year to talk about their progress in creating a new and improved energy option for the United States. Though nuclear fission has been in commercial use since 1957, the operative design philosophy has been that the way to improve its economics was to build bigger and bigger units in order to take advantage of the “economy of scale.”

SMR proponents believe there is a different way to achieve scale economies. They are investigating several different design philosophies that revolve around finding the right combination of output, physical size, locational flexibility, approval challenges, manufacturability, and construction schedule to attract a sufficient number of timely orders to enable economy of series production. Scale is important, but it’s the size of the overall enterprise, not the size of individual units that will matter.

Over time, the nascent SMR industry has also learned that they need to address a number of additional issues in order to achieve their challenging goal of enabling a useful and economically competitive new energy option based on the known technical advantages — specifically a virtually unlimited resource base of low-cost, emission-free fuel — of using atomic fission as the basic energy source.
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SUNY Maritime Student Advocates Commercial Nuclear Ship Propulsion

Stimulated by early atomic optimism, naval successes and Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, four nations built ocean going ships with nuclear propulsion plants. The US built the NS Savannah, Germany built the Otto Hahn, Japan built the Mutsu, and Russia built a series of nuclear powered icebreakers. For reasons that are beyond the scope of […]

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NEI Small Reactor Forum Report – Part 2

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) hosted its biannual Small Reactor Forum on February 25, 2014. The agenda for the one day event included six well-organized sessions with presentations from three small reactor vendors, the industry trade group, the regulatory agency, and several outside observers with a significant interest in the technology from a variety of […]

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NEI Small Reactor Forum Report – Part 1

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) hosted its biannual Small Reactor Forum on February 25, 2014. The agenda for the one day event included six well-organized sessions with presentations from three small reactor vendors, the industry trade group, the regulatory agency, and several outside observers with a significant interest in the technology from a variety of […]

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Argentina pours nuclear grade concrete for CAREM, a 25 MWe SMR

On February 8, 2014, Argentina poured its first nuclear grade concrete for CAREM-25, an integrated pressurized water reactor (iPWR) whose design has been in intermittent progress for more than 24 years. Will Davis wrote an informative piece titled Argentina carries torch for SMR construction about the design and the project at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Argentina […]

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Alvin Weinberg’s liquid fuel reactors

Figure 6. Senators John Kennedy and Al Gore Sr flank Alvin Weinberg on a visit to ORNL

A nuclear pioneer’s work on safer, cheaper, inexhaustible nuclear power is still inspiring nuclear environmentalists. by Robert Hargraves Physicist Alvin Weinberg worked on the Manhattan Project and later co-invented the pressurized water nuclear reactor. As Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory he led development of liquid fuel reactors, including walk-away-safe liquid fluoride thorium reactors with […]

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Westinghouse’s Roderick shifts resources from SMR to AP1000

NuScale was the sole winner in the latest round under the DOE’s Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for small modular reactors (SMR). The DOE announced its decision in December 2013. As a result of that decision, Westinghouse has shifted internal resources from working on a 225 MWe SMR to focus more on continued refinements and completion […]

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Russia using oil wealth to finance nuclear exports

Russia has announced plans to lend Hungary $14 billion at below market rates to finance the construction of additional nuclear energy production units at the existing Paks nuclear power station. The announcement is one more piece of evidence showing that Russia continues to diversify its income by exporting nuclear power stations to as large a […]

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Chinese plan to dominate nuclear market worldwide

A California-based correspondent shared the following vignette to a private email list early this morning. An aside — had dinner with a Stanford biz prof teaching entrepreneurship. His 15 Chinese students were at the table too (big table). A few spoke English. One is international marketing head for China Nuclear Power Engineering Company — largest […]

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Rosatom achieves a marketing win in Finland to supply Fennovoima

Finns are pragmatic people who love their country, but also recognize its geographic limitations. “Finland is a very cold and dark country. Electricity is very important to us. We are a kind of island in Europe, we have take care of ourselves. No one will help us if we run out of power.” Way back […]

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Reuters Breakout series focuses on China’s interest in thorium

Reuters is running a series titled Breakout: Inside China’s Military Buildout. Installment number 6 is titled The U.S. government lab behind Beijing’s nuclear power push. The title is misleading; it is not about China’s world-leading, multibillion-dollar program. That program includes 29 large commercial nuclear plants currently under construction. Instead, the article focuses on a $350 […]

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NuScale wins second round of DOE SMR funding under FOA

On December 12, 2013, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced the selection of NuScale as the winner of the second round of funding under the Department of Energy Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). That announcement, which had been due since sometime in September, must have been quite welcome to a lot of really talented and […]

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