Yesterday, Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green blog published a story titled In nuclear energy, smaller is better. It is certainly an article worth reading. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite for more:
Earlier this month, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy signed a memorandum of understanding with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions — itself a triple partnership between Fluor-Daniel (FLR, Fortune 500), Northrop Grumman (NOC, Fortune 500) and Honeywell (HON, Fortune 500) — to build a prototype SMR at the DOE’s Savannah River Site. Earlier this year, Bechtel, a company not exactly renowned for miniaturization, said it will team with nuclear vendor Babcock & Wilcox (BWC) to bring a small, commercial reactor to market. Westinghouse is also developing an SMR design, called the IRIS (International Reactor Innovative & Secure). Meanwhile, Seattle-based TerraPower — a secretive startup funded by Intellectual Ventures, the bleeding-edge technology investment firm headed by former Microsoft exec Nathan Myrvhold and partially backed by Bill Gates — is moving ahead with an SMR design that could, in theory, run for decades on spent nuclear fuel.
By definition, SMRs defy the old saw, often attributed to Al Gore, that “Nuclear plants come in only one size: extra-large.”
As an aside to Richard Martin, the author of the Fortune piece, the “only one size: extra-large” comment is not just attributed to Al Gore – it was often repeated by him in public venues. Here is a sample from a July 17, 2008 interview with Katie Couric:
Couric: What about nuclear power? I ask, what about nuclear power, because countries like France get something like 75-to-80 percent of their power from nuclear.
Gore: France is unique. It’s a special case. We have a lot of nuclear plants in the U.S., and … I’m not anti-nuclear. I’m a little skeptical that’s it’s gonna play a much bigger role than it does now. I think it’ll continue to play a role. But the problems with nuclear are it’s very expensive. It takes a long time to build. And these nuclear plants only come in one size, extra large.
And utilities don’t want to commit all that money for 15 years to get a plant that’s rising in cost. And of course the fuel also has some problems, because if it gets out to other countries that can’t be trusted, it feeds the problem of proliferating nuclear weapons.
Gore made a similar comment in an interview with The Age in November of 2006.
“Nuclear power plants are the costliest to build and they take the longest time and at present they come in only one size — extra large.”
He made the same comment in testimony on Capitol Hill, during a major speech in New York City in September 2006, and probably dozens of other times. (I love the Internet and its capability for recording silly statements that are available to all with a few keystrokes in your favorite search engine text entry box.)
Disclosure – I recently began working for B&W in a engineering/technical position on the Generation mPowerTM team. I have been a vocal proponent of small reactors for about 20 years. The Atomic Insights blog is strictly my own work done on my own time.