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.

A comprehensive list of the additional challenges is beyond the scope of this post, but yesterday I learned a little more about an important issue that has not yet received enough attention. Before any SMRs can be built in the US, the industry needs to resolve the issue of providing appropriate liability and property insurance. The current rules work when all reactors are either tiny research reactors or very large commercial reactors; there is a huge uncovered gap in the middle where no investor in their right mind would want to tread.

Dan McGarvey, US Power and Utility Practice Leader at Marsh, which is one of the largest insurance brokers serving the nuclear industry, described the challenge. There is a system that covers research reactors and small power reactors producing less than 100 MW. Once a reactor exceeds that power level, they join the system that covers large commercial reactors.

Under current rules, every reactor larger than 100 MW must carry the maximum available liability insurance, which is currently $375 million. They also must join the pool that provides standby liability coverage in the case of an accident at any covered facility. In the event of an accident where the payout is greater than the primary liability coverage limit, every reactor is assessed an identical fee which can go as high as $127 million per event.

Without a rule change, a 720 MWe installation that has four individual B&W mPowerTM reactors, each producing 180 MWe, would owe four times as much money to the pool as a single 1300 MWe Westinghouse 4 loop reactor. That is an untenable situation and what we used to call a “non-starter” in my former career.

Correction: (Posted May 11, 2014) The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included a provision that defined a combined facility as a facility hosting two or more reactors, each with a capacity between 100-300 MWe with a total capacity of less than 1,300 MWe as a single facility for the purposes of Price-Anderson liability coverage. (See page 9 of Price-Anderson Act Amendments of 2005.

While four individually-sited 220 MWe Westinghouse SMRs would owe four times as much in retrospective premiums as a single 1,300 MWe GE ESBWR, a single site hosting as many as seven B&W mPower reactors would have the same liability as one ESBWR.

Section 170 of the Atomic Energy Act (aka Price-Anderson) treats the 45 MWe NuScale Power Module differently because it is less than the current 100 MWe threshold for treatment as a commercial power reactor. It has a lower per unit liability coverage requirement (currently a maximum of $74 million) and is not included in the normal power reactor retrospective liability pool. End Correction.

The men from Marsh made it clear to the attendees that they need to focus some unified attention on resolving this issue. Until it is resolved, there will not be any small reactors built in the US.

There, I hit the hardest lesson from the day first.

The rest of the day was also usefully enlightening. There was a lot of discussion about the current level of competition from low-priced natural gas in North America. Many speakers, especially those from Wall Street, seem to accept the notion that low-priced gas is here to stay. Others expressed more skepticism.

Utility representatives mostly indicated that their boards of directors have a wait and see attitude and prefer not to make big bets on either low prices forever or on a rapid shift in gas prices to something that more closely resembles historic behavior where the price of gas is within about 20% of the price of oil when each fuel is converted to the amount of heat energy that it contains.

The man who was most skeptical and most concerned about the probability that gas prices are going to rise faster than conventional wisdom currently assume was Dave Mohre, Executive Director, Energy & Power Division, NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association).

Electric cooperatives will need fuel diversity in the future. We have a lot of problems thinking that natural gas is the fuel of the future. We’ve had experience, as you all have, with the rapid change in gas prices. In 2002 it was two bucks; actually it was under two bucks. Then came a couple of hurricanes and it was at fifteen or eighteen dollars. Then it went down. Now we have shale, but then we had a polar vortex recently.

In New York City the basis price reached $100 and people who tried to buy gas at that price to run their peaking units couldn’t get it. Tomorrow, FERC is having a conference about what went wrong during the polar vortex. It’s all about people who couldn’t get gas or paid way too much for it. This is just the beginning.

The dramatic fluctuations in gas prices converts what is normally considered to be a reliable fuel that might be suitable for a base load power plant into a fuel with characteristics more similar to other unreliables like wind and solar. It’s nice and cheap sometimes, but when you really need it, it’s either not there or way too expensive to afford.

Mohre is cautiously enthusiastic about smaller nuclear plants, but only if they can avoid the enormous cost and schedule challenges that plagued the “stick built” large nuclear plants. He used a phrase from a fairy tale to describe the experience that co-ops have had with nuclear plant investments, “When they were good, they were very, very good. When they were bad they were awful.” Some of the plants that the co-ops invested in as part owners came on line for a little less than $1000 per kilowatt of capacity, others cost as much as $5,600 per kilowatt (in 1985 dollars).

That experience, as Mohre explained, was substantially a result of NRC actions after the Three Mile Island accident. The regulator’s initial indecision and subsequent rule changes played havoc with construction project schedules at a time when interest rates approached 20%. As a result some projects, like the River Bend plant in Louisiana, ended up with financing costs that were two to three times the actual construction costs.

The bottom line from the potential SMR customers at the conference was that they were interested in the product that the SMR vendors say they are creating. They want plants that can be built in a factory and reliably delivered with a predictable schedule at a predictable cost. They want a nuclear energy option that will fit onto smaller sites and into smaller grids and they like the idea of projects that can be structured with a lower initial investment and create positive cash flow before the next incremental investment needs to be made.

The two vendors who have received funding from the DOE SMR program described their progress in creating a complete product that will meet the desires expressed by the customers.

Mike McGough, the Chief Commercial Officer for NuScale Power (a subsidiary of the Fluor Corporation), titled his talk “NuScale Power: Full Speed Ahead.” In December 2013, NuScale received notification from DOE that they would be the sole recipient of the second round of funding. Since then, the company’s development pace has increased. They have 45 open positions being advertised and expect to hire at least 100 people in 2014. I spoke to an engineer manning their display in the exhibition room; he told me everyone was happy about the award and working even harder and longer hours than before.

McGough described the simplicity of the natural circulation NuScale module, which does not use any pumps to move the cooling water through the reactor, even when operating at full power. That design decision reduces system complexity dramatically and eliminates a number of high cost systems.

The first product that NuScale expects to sell is a 560 MWe power station consisting of 12 individual modules, each with a reactor and a turbine generator. The installation will require about 42 acres of land. The company is planning to have the first installation ready to operate by 2025. The most likely location for that station will be on the Idaho National Laboratory property near Idaho Falls, ID. One of the main reasons for starting with a full scale, 12-unit power station is that it allows the company to get to ‘N’ as in ‘Nth of a kind’ more quickly.

In response to my question, McGough stated that the company has plans to offer other combinations including the possibility of a 45 MWe power plant that includes just one module.

Bill Fox, the Generation mPower Chief Operating Officer, provided an overview of the current Generation mPower product offering of a 360 MWe power station that includes two B&W mPower reactors located in underground containments sending steam to a turbine building that is outside of the security boundary. That installation requires about 40 acres of land and has a profile similar to a large Wal-Mart.

About six months ago, Fox came to Generation mPower from the SCANA corporation. While there, he led the effort to obtain a construction and operating license for VC Summer units 2 & 3, create a workable project schedule and begin construction. During his career he has developed a reputation for exceptional execution. Chris Mowry is now working on other projects for B&W.

Unlike NuScale, Generation mPower is not moving full speed ahead. The engineers assigned to the project are working diligently on their currently scheduled activities, but are anticipating a new project direction from the corporate headquarters. During an investor call about 4 weeks ago, Jim Ferland, B&W’s CEO, announced that a new project plan would be issued in four to six weeks. That plan has not been announced yet.

Fox is deeply involved in the Generation mPower project review. He has asked for a full review of a number of previous assumptions and decisions.

Answering the headline question, “Why not now?” SMRs are not available yet. The designs are not yet finished. License applications are not complete. Financing, insurance, and regulatory questions still need to be resolved.

“Then When?” The best available estimate is that there will be commercially available SMRs in the United States by 2025.

Now it’s time to get ready for day two of the conference. There are sessions scheduled about the international market, advanced reactors that are not evolutionary light water reactors, and presentations about various aspects of the SMR supply chain. It should be informative.

About Rod Adams

40 Responses to “SMRs – Why Not Now? Then When?”

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  1. Daniel says:

    Why not 10 years ago ? What a wasted opportunity.

    Watch Russia to the finish with floating SMR that also desalinate water out of the box.

    • Jim Holm says:

      Want to see reactor-in-a-box designs? Check out Skyscrubber.com

      • David says:

        @ Jim,

        I really like pebble bed reactors. They can be configured to use Thorium as breeders to extend the life of the Core. They are super super safe and fairly easy to recycle the fuel.

        I don’t like Helium as a working gas for Nuclear Reactors. It is too expensive to develop the turbines and Helium is a very rare gas. So, expensive to start off and then expensive to keep going. Helium is very difficult to keep trapped.

        Rod has pointed the way to using Nitrogen as the working gas. This means off the shelf turbines and very very inexpensive working gas that is super abundant.

  2. Joffan says:

    The rhyme is from Longfellow…

    There was a little girl, who had a little curl
    Right in the middle of her forehead,
    And when she was good, she was very, very good,
    But when she was bad she was horrid.

  3. Old Nuke says:

    Rod–

    I suggest that you might want to check with the NRC’s Office of the General Counsel concerning the interpretation you discuss with regard to insurance, and particularly the deferred premiums in the event of a major accident. You state (in part):

    “Without a rule change, a 720 MWe installation that has four individual B&W mPowerTM reactors, each producing 180 MWe, would owe four times as much money to the pool as a single 1300 MWe Westinghouse 4 loop reactor.”

    However, both the Atomic Energy Act (Part 170) and the NRC’s regulations (10 CFR 140.11) contain the following language:

    “…where a person is authorized to operate a combination of 2 or more nuclear reactors located at a single site, each of which has a rated capacity of 100,000 or more electrical kilowatts but not more than 300,000 electrical kilowatts with a combined rated capacity of not more than 1,300,000 electrical kilowatts, each such combination of reactors shall be considered to be a single nuclear reactor for the sole purpose of assessing the applicable financial protection required under this section.

    In other words, my reading is that a site containing more than one reactor rated between 100 and 300 MW (electric) with a total generating capacity less than 1300 MWe is treated as a single reactor for the purposes of assessing these amounts.

    If my interpretation is correct (I’m a nuclear engineer, not a lawyer), then the “non-starter” you describe is does not exist–and if someone is using it as an excuse for not pursuing SMRs, he/she is simply blowing smoke, to put it politely.

    Also note, by the way, that you refer to the possible need for a “rule change.” Notwithstanding the above issue, the NRC’s rules in this regard reflect the requirements of the so-called Price-Anderson amendments to the Atomic Energy Act. Any change in the requiremements in this regard do not simply involve “rule changes” (i.e., to the NRC’s regulations)–but rather, changes to the governing legislation, which much come first. (The changes discussed above in the definition of a “single” reactor were part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, PL 109-58.)

    There are other regulatory requirements that may impose what the industry might consider “undue” burdens on SMRs, because they were written for large power reactors, but I don’t think this is one of them.

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      So an mPower installation up to a “7-pack” would be ONE reactor for Price-Anderson purposes?  Fascinating.

      • Old Nuke says:

        That’s how it reads to me. The real question, though, is could you build 7 mPower units at a single site at a cost less than or equal to one 1260 (or larger) reactor? Economies of scale vs. economies of serial production is what it comes down to, in the end.

    • Old Nuke says:

      Additional comment: I have not tried to determine how NuScale’s design would be treated in this regard. Each of its reactors is less than 100 MWe, so the above provisions in the AEA and 10 CFR Part 140 would appear not to apply.

      • Rick Armknecht says:

        Old Nuke,
        How about this for an “appear not to apply” situation.
        Look at the “Definitions” section (10 CFR 140.3) (I am a lawyer and I always go to the definitions in statutes and regulations — they can be amazingly different from what you would typically expect and the definition set forth by the legislature or the regulator trumps any dictionary (or other) definition one might otherwise have in mind.)
        10 CFR 140.3 (f) Nuclear reactor means any apparatus,
        other than an atomic weapon,
        designed or used to sustain nuclear fission
        in a self-supporting chain reaction.

        Hmmm . . . “in a self-supporting chain reaction”
        My thoughts turn to particle accelerator driven subcritical reactors.
        They are not “self supporting chain reactions”, are they?
        Hence, under the definition adopted by the NRC, such “devices” are not actually “reactors”.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Rick Armknecht

          Interesting. However, since I’m a bit of an entrepreneur, cost analyst, and engineer, I’m not sure how one would take advantage of that situation. Particle accelerators are quite an expensive additional complexity when the goal is to produce large quantities of reliable heat from nuclear fission.

        • Old Nuke says:

          An accelerator, even in a configuration such that it drives a subcritical pile, is not a reactor, and until recently, if I’m not mistaken, the NRC did not regulate them. I’m not sure what the situation is now–i.e., if an accelerator is used to produce or transmute radioactive materials, as would be the case in the configuration you propose. I seem to recall that some changes were made in the NRC’s authority in this regard (possibly in the 2005 Energy Policy Act), but I’d have to do more research–and I don’t have the time to do that right now. I can tell you, however, that a company that wants to produce medical isotopes using–I think–an accelerator-driven system (the company is a spin-off from the U. of Wisconsin, called “Shine”) currently has an application under NRC review, so I infer from that fact that the NRC does now have authority in that regard.

          In any case, the insurance and fees to which reactors are subject, as discussed in 10 CFR Part 140, do not apply to accelerators, because accelerators are not reactors. And I’m not aware of any proposals to use an accelerator-driven subcritical system to generate heat and/or electric power. I can only speculate on how the NRC would handle such a proposal under its current rules.

        • Rick Armknecht says:

          Rod and Old Nuke,

          While there may not be any proposals in America to use an accelerator-driven subcritical system to generate heat and/or electric power, Japan, India and Belgium are each pursuing the possibility (see http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Accelerator-driven-Nuclear-Energy/).
          I also recall seeing a video on developments in cutting the cost of particle accelerators (an English company produced the video about its own research, I believe).

          If the regulatory scheme favors ADS nuclear power, then that is certainly a factor to take into consideration.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Rick Armknecht

            There are certainly others who are interested in the technology. I was simply expressing my evaluation of its likelihood of success. There are plenty of engineers that like attempting to solve hard technical challenges. I’m not one of them. I prefer simple engineering and a focus on solving human imposed barriers.

            For example – I consider it far easier to change the words in the regulations than to attempt to make accelerator driven sub-critical systems competitive with a reactor that has sufficient excess reactivity to handle load changes, start-ups and shutdowns with ease.

  4. Paul Wick says:

    Please excuse the cut and paste from EFT blog but I think it is relevant:
    It seems possible to me that two promising technological leaps forward in light water reactor fuel rod designs will be tested and proven and perhaps licensed by the time Babcock and Wilcox (BWC), Westinghouse and NuScale are ready to commercialize their SMR designs, rendering these designs somewhat obsolete at birth. The research into silicon carbide cladding seems to have solved the problem of brazing on end caps. The research into beryllium oxide laced uranium oxide pellets has just proven the ability to manufacture them with consistent results. The latter improves thermal conductivity tremendously, reducing the internal operating temperature and improving safety. The new cladding has been shown to withstand temperatures of up to 1800*C without weakening. Among other things, this is said to enable the fuel to stay in the reactor much longer, decreasing costs. Not to mention eliminating the use of zirconium and its production of hydrogen under loss of coolant accidents, with explosive results (Fukushima). Meanwhile, Lightbridge’s all metallic fuel, with its much cooler internal temperatures and cost effective power uprates, appears to be making steady strides toward commercialization. In yesterday’s webinar, Lightbridge’s Seth Grae stated that their agreement with Babcock and Wilcox to explore a pilot facility for making short test versions of their new fuel rod, seem to have accelerated and morphed into looking for sites suitable for actual production of fuel rods. If this is so, perhaps BWC is thinking about redesigning their mPower to take advantage of the new all-metallic rods they appear to be collaborating with Lightbridge on.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Paul Wick

      Those are great developments, but I don’t understand why they would make the proposed designs obsolete. Changing and improving the core doesn’t change the need to have a system for moving the heat to a turbine generator.

      • Paul Wick says:

        In a previous webinar, in response to my question of whether the Areva EPR could be redesigned to take advantage of the 30% power uprate attributed to their metallic fuel, Lightbridge’s Seth Grae said it could, yielding upwards of 2 gigs (from 1.6GWe now). So pipes, pumps, heat exchangers and turbines and so forth could be upgraded, yielding more power for modest capital expenditure for a PWR (or conversely, a smaller core, and a similar power output.) I’m not sure if the silicon carbide/beryllium oxide fuel rod proponents claim possible power uprates. SiC cladding does virtually eliminate hydrogen production in a LOCA situation; and the Lightbridge all-metallic fuel is said to reach a maximum temperature 200* below hydrogen formation with loss-of-coolant. As well, both new techology rods operate at much, much lower internal temperatures. So one would presume redesigns of redundant safety systems would be advantageous.

        • Jim Rogers says:

          “So pipes, pumps, heat exchangers and turbines and so forth could be upgraded…”

          I recognize that you are probably talking about designs that are not yet installed thus making this seem very simple just change components. However, engineers would be face with new condensate pumps, new feedwater pumps, new feedwater heaters and, God forbid, a new Main Condenser. New piping designs and new high and low pressure turbines. Increased heat removal in the main condenser would very likely mean new circulating water pumps and a new cooling tower. Lets look at the electrical end with a new main transformer(s) and auxiliary transformers stretching through medium voltage distribution busses. This doesn’t even go into the impact on accident analyses where containment pressure and temperature would be impacted. Dare I mention the licensing costs? Since we’re talking about a PWR you would likely need new Steam Generators?
          Just by way of comparison look at the costs of the uprate at Grand Gulf and Monticello – $500-$800B for uprates of ~70 to 250 MWe.

          New and more rugged fuel designs especially if they improve on Zirc cladding are wonderful but I don’t think you are going to retrofit existing designs.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Jim Rogers

            You wrote:

            Just by way of comparison look at the costs of the uprate at Grand Gulf and Monticello – $500-$800B for uprates of ~70 to 250 MWe. (Emphasis added.)

            Just guessing here, but should that ‘B’ be an ‘M’? I know nuclear plant upgrades can be expensive, but I hardly think that upgrading one plant has a cost approaching the annual budget for the entire Department of Defense.

    • Old Nuke says:

      With all due respect, I would estimate the time to commercialize a new fuel design, starting from today, as between 10 and 15 years–assuming that there are prospective customers; the timeline for small LWRs is not quite that long. And I’d be VERY skeptical of metal fuel for LWRs. I’m well aware of its superior thermal properties; I’m also aware of its drawbacks in a water-cooled reactor.

  5. Charles Barton says:

    Rod, In 2008, I did an analysis of the optimal size of a factory manufactured and easily transported MSR was 100 MWe. A larger core would probably not be truck transportable, although a larger train transportable MSR was conceivable. If the reactor was barge transportable, it could be considerably larger, maybe 500 MWe. Multiple factory manufactured MSRs could be housed on Coal fired power plant sites, and reactor cores buried underground, an approach that appears to have been adopted by NuScale.

    MSRs can be housed on the grounds of many coal fired power plant. Thus replacing dirty coal with clean Molten Salt Reactor power. The grid hook ups of the coal fired plants can be reused with electricity generated by the MSRs. The MSR can use LEU, with or without thorium.

    The Chinese appear to be planning an modified vorsion of this scheme, with much larger LFTR.

    The 100 MWe MSR can be transported by truck, as well as train and barge. It can be built with a variety of metals, and with titanium of operating at over 1000 C. It can use a variety of energy generating systems, including steam, supercritical CO2, and GE open air turbines. It is extremely safe, even without underground housing, it will burn its own actinide waste. Its fission products should not be considered wast, because they or their daughter products include many valuable materials, and they or their daughter products will stop being dangerous within 300 years.

    The Chinese, working with ORNL plans, estimate that they can produce a LFTR ready for commercial production by 2024, using a staff that is about half the size of the current ORNL staff. They believe that they can accomplish this in 10 years.

    It seems likely that in the United States, a smaller staff, using ORNL MSRE tested technology could build a very useful 100 MWe MSR that be massed produced, and shipped all over the country and indeed all over the world. These mass pr5oduced reactors could very quickly replace coal, and as Robert Hargraves has repeatedly pointed out, replace coal at a price that is lower than coal.

    • Robert Sneddon says:

      The Chinese are actually constructing a small modular high-temperature pebble-bed reactor system, the HTR-PM based off their experimental HTR-10 design which is, I think, currently the only grid-connected pebble-bed reactor operational anywhere. The initial HTR-PM installation being built in Shidaowan comprises two reactor modules feeding a single 210MWe turbine, expected grid operation is late 2017 if all goes well. There are future plans to build another 18 HTR modules on the same site for a total generating capacity exceeding a single conventional EPR. Saying that the same site will eventually house two CAP1400 reactors (first concrete on the first of these was poured a few days ago) and there are plans to build several AP1000 reactors there too.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Robert Sneddon

        The HTR-PM is an intriguing reactor design. Once well proven and in full production, it seems almost perfectly suited to be a coal furnace replacement. As we all know, the Chinese have been building a large number of new steam plants during the past decade. They achieve some impressive atmospheric clean-up by replacing the furnaces and boilers with high temperature nuclear steam supply systems. A bonus would be much cheaper power and a suddenly less crowded railroad system that would then be able to transport more interesting goods out of the country, perhaps all the way to Europe.

  6. Joel Riddle says:

    Rod,

    Minor correction: River Bend is in Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, rather than Mississippi.
    http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/rbs1.html

  7. Marcel F. Williams says:

    Natural gas is here to stay– only– if governments give up on doing anything about greenhouse gas produced climate change, rising sea levels, and the acidification of the oceans. But you’re not going to solve the problem of placing excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere– by using more fossil fuels.

    Small nuclear reactors offer the chance of gradually increasing the amount of carbon neutral electricity at existing sites in the US until they’ve completely replaced the use of fossil fuels for base load electricity production in America.

    Small nuclear reactors will also present us with the opportunity to produce carbon neutral synfuels from seawater that could completely replace our need for fossil fuels for peak load electricity production and transportation fuels.

    Marcel

    • Marcel F. Williams says:

      Spent fuel is a valuable commodity, owned by the tax payers, that can be recycled to create even more clean energy.

      Plus the amount of toxic waste created in the nuclear industry per kilowatt produced is tiny compared to the toxic waste produced for the meager amounts of electricity produced by the solar industry.

      Solar industry grapples with hazardous wastes

      http://news.yahoo.com/solar-industry-grapples-hazardous-wastes-184714679.html.

      The Future of Ocean Nuclear Synfuel Production

      http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-future-of-ocean-nuclear-synfuel.html

      Marcel

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Marcel F. Williams

        Spent fuel is a valuable commodity, owned by the tax payers, that can be recycled to create even more clean energy.

        I’m not so sure about the “owned by taxpayers” part. Until the DOE actually takes title to the fuel and moves it away from the site where it was initially used, I think that the utilities actually own the asset. Of course, most of them currently consider that asset to be a liability that incurs a continuing additional cost while they have to store and protect it, waiting for the DOE to perform its legal obligation.

        I used to think about the money making potential of setting up a few concrete pads near a suitably convenient railroad intersection and offering the service of taking those liabilities off of the hands of the current owners. Once we had a suitably extensive inventory to support a continuous process, I’d then obtain permission to recycle the material. Of course, the downfall of that dream is the incredibly arduous process of obtaining permission, plus the fact that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 gives the government a monopoly on the used fuel business — even though they apparently have no inclination to do the job.

  8. John T Tucker says:

    Its strange Radiation Therapy units don’t need to carry liability insurance that I know of. Not that I think its actually needed but there have been a few mishaps unrelated to their intended use and I am forever hearing of their potential for “dirty bomb” applications. (of course of people receiving high dose therapy to treat a variety of life threatening and quality of life issues the cancer rate later in life from these treatments, assuming it is related is suspected to be around 1/1000 or below.)

    At present there are about 2200 of these in the developing world with many more desperately needed ( http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/TreatingCancer/treatingcancer.pdf )

    As a matter of fact it looks like far far more suffer and die from lack of access to Radiation than ever did because of it. Including this time, weapons tests and actual use.

    • Old Nuke says:

      I’m not sure I see the connection here. Radiation therapy is a medical procedure, and I would assume that all such facilities (at least in the US) carry liability insurance under their normal medical malpractice policies that would cover medical misadministrations in this regard. My knowledge of the regulations dealing with the medical (or industrial) uses of radioactive materials is far less in-depth than my knowledge of reactor regulations, but the potential economic consequences of an accident involving those uses are much less than the potential consequences of a severe accident in a reactor; that was the driver for the AEA and NRC regulatory provisions concerning liability insurance for reactor accidents.

      Incidentally, you underestimate the number of “mishaps” related to medical and industrial uses of radioactive materials. Each year, the NRC sends a report to Congress on significant events involving its licensees. The vast majority of those events are related to medical misadministrations and other occurrences involving non-reactor uses of radioactive materials. In some years, there are no reactor-related events at all. And people have been seriously injured in some of these cases. (I do not recall if there have been any deaths.)

      As far as “dirty bombs” are concerned, it’s an interesting conjecture, but the consensus (among experts I’ve seen/heard/read) is that the radiological consequences of such an event would likely be minimal, as far as the threat to public health and safety is concerned. The consequences of the blast itself would likely be far greater. But if a licensee did not adequately protect radioactive material and allowed it to be diverted for such a device, the NRC could take regulatory action against the licensee. In any case, that would be a situation where the material was not being used for its intended purpose. That’s different from a reactor accident, where the facility was being used as intended but underwent an event that culminated in the release of significant quantities of radioactive materials to the environment.

      • John T Tucker says:

        Well honestly I never really thought it made sense. There has never been a effective mass causality inducing dispersal of material in either case. Accident or terrorist incident. I just wondered as long as long as they were more or less requiring extensive liability coverage from on high, why not there as well. I guess it just doesn’t work that way.

        BTW here is the one such incident that got me derailed on that track

        Stolen radiotherapy unit sparks soul-searching on nuclear security ( http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2013/12/stolen-radiotherapy-unit-cobalt-60-nuclear-security )

        I still think its strange that no one really even knows how much these units and doctors trained to use them are needed in many places, especially if the iaea report (2003) above is to believed, and say just 25 to 100 patients (very low) a year were to benefit from the 5000 needed devices; it would involve a absolutely huge number of people. Unfortunately as public awareness goes more seem to know about the TJ incident and embarrassingly low fuku radiation. I didnt know about the need to ll I stumbled across it looking for something else. I never even heard of the x-ray hearing treatment thing until today.

  9. James Greenidge says:

    Re: Nuclear Kenya
    http://chic.clipsyndicate.com/video/playlist/1510/5020807?cpt=8&title=ans_nuclear_clips&wpid=752

    An appeal for help in advancing pro-nuclear accuracy in developing nations! I’m unable to find a way to leave a comment or feedback at “Clip” or AllAfrica regarding this video piece, which blatantly displays burning oil fires during a Fukushima take and constantly alludes to any nuclear plant as a potential Fukushima. There is no mistake about Clip’s green intentions, as Clip very favorably follow-up on windmills ruining Kenya’s famous natural landscape then on waste site “hazards”. I wish to correct Clip in their place! If anyone knows how I drop a reproving comment at Clip and AllAfrica please inform me ASAP.

    Thanks

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  10. David says:

    Having just gotten back from a Safari in Africa, I would be very saddened to see that Windmills were marring the landscape. Gasoline in South Africa is close to 6 or 7 dollars a gallon, almost twice the rate in the USA. They were making good progress toward a pebble bed reactor when the cost of development for a Helium turbine was more than they were willing to pay.

    Africa needs Nuclear Power. It is developing rapidly. High available inexpensive power would transform the place. Kenya especially is becoming a 2nd world nation rather than a 3rd world nation. They are undergoing radical transformations and I am sure the Greens are afraid they will get Nuclear Power.

    I just wish the fuel for Pebble beds was not taking so long to develop here in the USA. I also wish that more would follow Rod’s lead and use Nitrogen rather than Helium as the working gas.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @David

      The good news is that the fuel development continues to move forward on approximately the same schedule that the DOE provided to me in about 2007. It will be ready to support high temperature reactors by about 2021.

      There are at least three existing projects planning to use the same TRISO fuel particles – the NGNP, X-Energy, and an effort that uses molten salt coolant flowing through a high temperature pebble bed (that one is an effort led by Per Peterson at UC Berkeley.)

      When fuel is available, I might still have time remaining before retirement to restart Adams Engines.

  11. Jim Holm says:

    It’s easy to understand what has happened.

    SMRs have been pushed aside by products like the 60% efficient 750 mW(e) GE FE60 FlexEfficiency 60 combined cycle power plant. Very environmentally clean, dual natural gas turbines with heat recovery boilers driving a steam turbine, it can load follow a grid full of wind turbines.

    As you know, I’m pro-nuke, but that’s what’s going on in the US electricity market.

    Check it out.

    Skyscrubber.com

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Jim Holm

      The GE FE60 would be perfect if it used an emission-free, long lived heat source–say in the form of a high temperature pebble bed reactor–instead of burning a valuable raw material like natural gas. :-)

  12. John T Tucker says:

    What happened to the Toshiba efforts. It seemed they were ahead of the pack with their neutron reflector concept back around 2007. Was that all press releases or what?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @John T Tucker

      The Toshiba corporation has been experiencing some difficult times and has had to set priorities. I have no knowledge of their inside decision making processes, but I assume they pulled back on the 4S to free up resources to invest more in projects like establishing a global AP1000 supply chain and successfully completing the 8+ large reactors they have under construction.

      • John T Tucker says:

        I read some about their SMR early on as they had planed to try to test in in Alaska and some press came out on it when I was living up there. I really liked it from my very limited knowledge of design. It seemed way ahead of its time. If the business environment is the majority of why its too bad someone else didn’t take it up back where they left off.