Atomic Show #233 – Innovators discuss advanced reactor development in US
There are a growing number of innovative small companies and a few divisions of larger companies that have recognized that nuclear energy offers solutions to a number of important human challenges. Despite the proclamations by opponents, the Nuclear Renaissance is not any more dead in 2015 than the original Renaissance was dead in 1315.
In the minds of the people who participated in this show, the revival in nuclear energy has only just begun. The ideas and inventions that they envision are almost limitless in potential, even if the first units have not yet received official permission to begin construction.
Providing energy to society is not a fad; it is a business that began about the time that humans discovered how to control fire and will most likely end about the time that human society forgets how to use either fire or fission.
Here is the list of people who participated in the round table about some of the market opportunities, financial challenges, and regulatory obstacles that will be surmounted in the future:
- Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer, NuScale Power.
- David LeBlanc, President and Chief Technical Officer Terrestrial Energy
- Canon Bryan, Chief Financial Officer Terrestrial Energy
- Robin Rickman, Director Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor Program
- Per Peterson, Professor, University of California Berkeley, faculty lead for Pebble Bed, Fluoride Salt Cooled High Temperature Reactor (PB-FHR)
- Jacob DeWitte, CEO UPower
NuScale Power is well down the road towards completing its design and its design certification application to the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC). The company’s design traces its roots to a project conducted at Oregon State University called the MASLWR – multi-application small light water reactor. Each NuScale Power Module is a complete 50 MWe generating system, with a natural circulation reactor heat source inside a pressure vessel that is installed in an individual containment and a steam turbine power conversion unit.
The first plant layout that the company is focused on detailing is a 12 module facility that will be able to generate a net power output of 570 MWe. Mike describes NuScale’s design status, tells us a little about the first project and the first customer, and gives us some information about the location of the plant and its estimated completion date.
NuScale plans to file its design certification application during the second half of 2016. It has 600 people working on its team, it is spending about $12 million/month, and it expects to have its first plant operating sometime in 2023. It sees its primary initial market as providing a replacement option for utilities that have decided to retire baseload coal plants instead of updating them to comply with a variety of air quality related regulations.
Terrestrial Energy is at an earlier stage of developing a molten salt, liquid fuel reactor that will transfer its heat to a steam plant secondary. David LeBlanc describes how the company is developing a variety of different models with various electricity production capacities as it seeks its lead customers. It will be focusing initially on the Canadian market.
There are several potential target customer types including northern remote communities, power plants for remote mining and industrial facilities, and process heat consumers. Canon Bryan describes some of the financial issues that are important in the effort to attract private capital to their development project.
Westinghouse Electric Company, the designer of the AP1000 passively safe large light water reactor, developed a smaller version of that popular design to the point where it was within a year of being ready to file a design certification application with the NRC.
Since that is a big step requiring a substantial investment of financial, engineering and managerial resources, the company took a hard look at near term market interest and determined about a year ago that it would put its design on the shelf to wait for a more interested market. Robin Rickman, the Director of Westinghouse’s SMR program describes his company’s strategy, its continued strong interest and participation in small nuclear reactor committees, and its readiness to move forward once an investment decision is made.
Per Peterson is a professor at the University of California Berkeley. He talked about his university’s role in teaching, inspiring innovative thinking and seizing on modern technology opportunities to do what it can to help train a new generation of innovative, capable technical leaders for a rejuvenated nuclear energy industry.
Jacob DeWitte is the CEO of UPower, which has decided to design what they call a micro reactor sized to provide power to remote communities that are not currently served by the electrical power grid. Their 1-2 MW reactors sound incredibly tiny, even compared to the modest sizes of other SMRs finding their way into the market, but 1 MWe generator requires a 1,341 horsepower motor to turn it. That is a fair sized diesel engine, which is the power system that DeWitte sees as his company’s target competition.
We talked about the challenge of getting a license to build and operate a new reactor in the United States, even one that uses traditional light water reactor fuel technology. As the group acknowledged, it is not clear now how the US NRC will succeed in reviewing documents and issuing construction and operating licenses to machines that use entirely different technology like molten salt coolant or liquid fueled reactors.
We also touched on a concept that was discussed during the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee meeting in December, which is the possibility that the government might benefit by hosting prototype or commercial demonstration plants at one or more of its existing nuclear energy laboratory sites. The prime locations for such a cooperative project would be Savannah River Site, Idaho National Laboratory, or Hanford National Laboratory. Other possibilities not mentioned on the show include Oak Ridge or Los Alamos.
I worked hard to improve the sound quality for this show and to ask the guests to make better use of their mute buttons when they were not talking. I think the effort paid off; I’d like to hear your opinion. This topic is also important enough and interesting enough to generate a good deal of discussion, so the comment thread will be open for one week.
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Audio quality is much better. Equalization especially is much more natural sounding and not as “ treblely” as it was in the past.
Now you just have to get the last of the phone-in participants on Skype with good headsets!
I wonder about the reactor that isn’t being marketed.
Question: As I understand it, Per Peterson’s group is modeling the characteristics of molten salt cooling using pebble bed fuel. Is anyone actually marketing this particular combination? (Actually oil and plastic balls are used.)
Previous post on Atomic Insights shows Triso fuel to have good qualities and the world has experience with pebble bed reactors. Refueling can be done online like CANDUs. Greater burnup can be achieved. It is a fuel which can deliver the high temperatures that allow greater thermodynamic efficiencies.
Wouldn’t this combination allow the potential of the molten salt to be less radiologically hot? This may allow a better potential for developing the high temperature pumps, valves and piping for molten salt reactors in a somewhat less “hot” environment? A future step could be to put the fuel in the salt and develop the reprocessing techniques. This seems like a fit for a Small Modular Reactor (SMR).
Thanks for taking the time to put together this interesting talk.
The Chinese are indeed making salt-cooled pebble reactor designs, with Per’s help and with ORNL’s help. Isn’t that peachy?
At least the Chinese are also working on true MSR designs.
@ A. Cannara:
“The Chinese are indeed making salt-cooled pebble reactor designs, with Per’s help and with ORNL’s help. Isn’t that peachy?”
I certainly do think it is peachy. That linked video is from 2012. Per the video, they are actually supposed to get a 2 MW prototype complete by the end of this year. (2015) Schedules are usually optimistic. They have a lot of problems to solve.
This prototype could be scaled up, problems resolved and marketed to the world as an SMR. This could be a practical solution to all those coal plants closing as mentioned in the podcast. Thanks for the link.
A little piece of news that seems to have attracted little attention. ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization) is collaborating with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics in a materials research program to support the molten salt reactor development efforts.
In just a few decades I can foresee a situation in which China has reduced their CO2 emissions to sustainable levels, while the USA is still emitting like crazy because we’re powering everything with natural gas and coal covered in a fig leaf of “renewables”.
Would China be justified in declaring war to get us to stop emitting so much CO2 into everyone’s air? At some point our failure to embrace a meaningful/effective solution becomes an existential threat to everyone else.
I have no doubt that they’ll manage it absent some societal revolution.
Their leadership has flaws, but they are engineering minded and seem to be willing to choose workable solutions to problems, rather than picking whatever is currently fashionable.
Working and living at a jobsite that renders internet activity almost virtually impossible, a trip into town has me belatedly discovering the new comment policy. Sucks, Rod. Although I trust your motives, the insinuation of partisan reasoning is hard to discount. Stumbling into the site with no past experience here would definitely ease the path to assuming that the site merely preaches to the choir, and has a system of moderation designed to delegate any NE naysayers, fence sitters, or uninformed antis into the ranks of trolldom. A real shame. But I’m sure a number of your followers rejoice in their freedom to advocate sans dissenting opinion. Unfortunately, I can think of no site to fill the void your new comment policy has opened.
Oh well. Happy sailing Rod. Adios.
The strategy does not preclude comments and vigorous discussion on selected topics and during periods when I have plenty of time. It is designed to reduce the constant demands that arise when there are too many open threads that are magnets for comment spam. Before closing off comments on old posts, it was risky to take a day or more off.
If you review the posts that have been published since the new strategy was introduced, I think you can see that I have hosted several good discussions that have welcomed dissenters. Some posts don’t really engender much in the way of useful discussion, but the spam bots love them.
Rod…not questioning your motives or intent. Merely pointing out how such a policy can be perceived by those unfamiliar with the site. And also seeking to get you thinking about how such a policy puts a grin on the faces of those here who are rabidly partisan, hiding political motives and religious bigotry behind feigned scientific concern.
The ease with which some here are labeled as being “trolls” should concern you. When people jump off a fence, they usually opt for the side that doesn’t contain the snarling dogs.
Those who label others may find their posts disappearing more frequently.
In the meantime, Siemens-Westinghouse and GE are busy around the clock making gas turbines from 5 to 500 MW each. Several different models. Custom options available. Factory built. Constantly improving technology. And no NRC to slow you down.
I like gas turbines. I just think their working gas should be heated with something besides combustion.
Real, built and operated, gas cooled reactors have either been for producing plutonium for weapons, parts of weapons systems themselves, or more difficult and expensive to operate than was wished.
Perhaps. The HTR-10 and HTR-PM that is under construction has the potential for proving that the technology has more potential than it has displayed so far.
Are you aware, by the way, that all but one of the UK’s current fleet of reactors, which have had a reasonably good operational history for such early model technology, are gas cooled?
Are you aware that the small Magnox reactor now shutdown in Japan was at Tokai Mura, where the criticality accident related to fast breeder reactors and reprocessing occurred, killing two people, irradiating hundreds, and continuing to pulse out of control for about 20 hours?
Sure. I was aware that on the same site where some workers put too much liquid containing enriched uranium into a container that provided the geometry for a critical mass, there was once a MAGNOX gas cooled reactor.
Is that an important fact to know or did it appear on a nuclear version of a Trivial Pursuit card?
I am not aware what capacity and availability factors equate to “reasonably good,” or how to fairly adjust for de-rating to 70% of design power for 4 of the advanced units. Are you?
Compared to early versions of many other technologies, the British gas cooled reactors were reasonably good performers and provided billions of kilowatt-hours of ultra low emission power with okay reliability. My standards for performance include the recognition that learning takes time and practice. Those standards also take into account external factors that provide some forgiveness for competitors who have to deal with “knee-capping” or unpredicted injuries and still manage to make a comeback – of sorts.
The WNA provides a brief, but fairly detailed and objective history of the UK’s nuclear power industry at
I’m not sure why you participate here and put up with an “inconsistent as always” host who is motivated to tightly control “as much as can be controlled.”
Please remember this is my house. The 1st amendment starts with “Congress shall make no law…” It does not apply to private venues where people have the right to peaceably assemble and engage in civil, respectful discussions.
Well, I don’t have much hard data yet, but my general impression is that the “troll factor” has decreased considerably — with at least one notable exception. 😉
I have noted that comments have been deleted in the past, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how many. I’m merely an observer on this site, just like everyone else. I don’t have access to any privileged information. All I can say is that the number of deleted comments has been very small.
No, that would seem vain, like self-promotion, almost as if I were vying for some sort of award.
I had one minor audio glitch or skip that wiped out the Westinghouse answer to how many orders they needed to proceed. I would be interested in knowing that number.
On a larger note I noticed a large concurrence with the idea that the current NRC (and its structure) is a large detriment to new innovative design approval. If you have another session like this in the future, can you get a high ranking NRC person to participate? Maybe you did ask this time and they declined.
Specifically I would like to know if NRC also sees this as a problem, but I would like to know if they feel they are constrained by something outside their control. I’d like to hear their side of this issue. If something structurally needs changing, what would they recommend, etc.
If they are perceived as a problem by start-ups, the are a problem, but everyone wants to know what has to change to solve this problem.
If they don’t see NRC process as a problem it is a whole different issue to get anything changed.
I had one minor audio glitch or skip that wiped out the Westinghouse answer to how many orders they needed to proceed. I would be interested in knowing that number.
Thank you for the suggestion regarding getting an NRC spokesperson. I’ll try.
From the podcast:
Danny Roderick of Westinghouse was recalled as saying a year previously concerning the decision to invest in modular manufacturing facilities, “At least 30 plants in our order book for this to make sense.”
It’s not stated how many SMRs these 30 plants would correspond to, presumably the size of the old coal plant the customer wanted replaced would dictate that. Each of their planned SMRs is “north of 225 MW” (electrical?)
Great episode, I really enjoyed listening to the progress of these SMR heavy hitters. The progress that they’ve made sounds really exciting. I was just curious though, I realize that there were a lot of companies on this episode and that having too many more would not have given enough time for everyone to speak.
But was there any reason that other primary smr companies like General Atomics, mPower, Holtec, and Gen4 didn’t make it on the show. I know we talked about mPower over an email, but I feel as if learning about the progress of these other companies in another episode similar to this one would be something everyone who listens would enjoy. I’ve barely heard anything new on those four developers of SMR’s.
Again great episode, I definitely plan to start donating and listening more.
How do you discover something like the $6 billion dollar subsidy for wind turbines that have already been built? I realize that how to spot something like a federal subsidy is not a skill that can be taught over a comment thread, but what resources should I be directing my attention to in order to make sure that I am looking in the right place even if I don’t have the training yet to make full sense of the relevant resources?
I’ve been following, using several different resources including Google Alerts, discussions about the status of the Production Tax Credit. I knew it had been allowed to sort of expire at the end of 2013. https://atomicinsights.com/cape-wind-pushing-deadline-to-qualify-for-780-million-taxpayer-gift/
In mid December, I noticed articles like the following that described the extension with what I found out were deceptive comments by the wind industry.
It turned out that the actual legislation included a retroactive provision to cover any project that began construction in 2014.
Here are some other data sources:
Keeping track of the PTC – http://dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US13F
Lucrative Investment Tax Credit in lieu of the PTC that was originally created in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as part of the Recovery Act. That industry-favorite giveaway program is known as 1603 Program: Payments for Specified Energy Property in Lieu of Tax Credits.
The calculation of the worth of a one year extension of the program requires comparing values from the program reports that are issued “from time to time.”
The most recent one was published on Jan 8, 2015 http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/recovery/Documents/STATUS%20OVERVIEW.pdf
I have not been able to find an archive of the reports on treasury.gov, but a Google search revealed this copy of a report dated October 31, 2011.
Thanks Rod, that was a great podcast and a really interesting set of people you pulled together. The discussion on licencing was fascinating.
First, regarding the podcast: I think the discussion from Dr. Peterson regarding the need to migrate from the deterministic model to a more performance-based (probabilistic) regulatory approach is one of the most key aspects for the future of nuclear power.
Regarding the new commenting policy, if it frees up more of your time to be able to organize podcasts like this, it could certainly be a net positive for Atomic Insights as an overall entity. That said, it has been over a week, so I was afraid that I had missed my chance to comment on this posting. 🙂
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