In an interesting editorial in the Tri-City Herald (serving Kennewick, Pasco and Richland Washington) titled Slow resurrection of nuclear power the paper’s editorial board bemoans the fact that there does not seem to be much progress visible in the Nuclear Renaissance. Of course, we all know that there are things happening in preparation for building, but watching from the outside must be like watching an aircraft carrier on the day of its departure. For many hours in advance, all of the activity is inside the ship and not visible from the pier. Even when the ship starts moving, it is hard to tell for a while.
The authors of the piece lay part of the blame on the rather entrenched attitudes of some leaders in the industry – entrenched in the sense of keeping their heads down in a foxhole after being attacked for many years.
Even formerly rabid anti-nuclear power advocates have toned down their rhetoric or dropped it altogether.
But nuclear power plant operations remain largely under the leadership of people who grew old as something akin to pariahs — shunned by segments of society where any technology other than microchips is considered suspect.
Maybe these old-timers have given up on fighting hysteria with reason.
In physical trench warfare there is both a risk and potential reward for being one of the first to cautiously get out of the trench and begin advancing once the bullets have stopped flying quite as regularly. The editors at the Tri-City Herald might not have noticed from their position in the Northwest, but the Southeast (which includes my current state of residence – Maryland) and Texas based utilities have definitely begun their advance using the traditional weapons of large scale plants.
Another passage in the editorial caught my attention”
When nuclear development does get back into high-level production in this country, it will likely be in smaller plants.
The existing giants, such as the one operated by Energy Northwest in Richland, will probably be replaced, eventually, by smaller, “cookie-cutter” reactors that will not require a redesign for every site.
Instead, by adopting standardized, fail-safe designs, the construction and equipping of nuclear power plants may be revived at much reduced costs.
Perhaps the editors on the Tri-City Herald are watching the progress of a different kind of new nuclear power company that is not led by people who were bloodied in the last nuclear age. There is a start-up company in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon) called NuScale that is developing a passively safe, 35 MWe light water reactor that uses natural circulation cooling. The design has been licensed from Oregon State University and was developed in partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory.
The NuScale system uses no pumps; the cooling flow is produced by heating the water at a low point in the circuit and cooling it at a high point in the circuit. There is not yet much information about the company available on the web, but you can read a little bit about the technology at the Oregon State University’s College of Engineering web page. (Scroll down to the section titled Passive Nuclear.)
I also found an enthusiastic note posted on the jobs bulletin board for the college indicating that the company has about 8 engineers on staff now (as of April 9, 2008) and is in the market for a Civil Engineering Professional Engineer (PE) and a Mechanical Engineering PE. On the nuclearjob.net site, the company has several additional jobs posted including a Licensing Engineer, a Safety Analyst, a couple of Design Engineers, and a Project Manager. Sounds to me like there is some real action happening there. You will have an edge in the job competition if you are an OSU graduate; the company CEO is Dr. Paul G. Lorenzini, OSU class of 1970 and he is an ex-officio member of the The Campaign for OSU.
Bottom line – there are people that are working on the fact that the large plants proposed by the traditional reactor vendors are so expensive that they are difficult to finance by even the largest utility companies in the United States.