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  1. Plug-in vehicles are a major factor there.

    There are OTOO 15 million LDVs sold in the USA each year.  If they were all plug-in hybrids with an average of 10 kWh of battery on board, a mere 3 Gigafactories could supply the battery packs for all of them.  This is well within the realm of feasibility.

    Charging that annual 150 GWh of capacity every night between 9 PM and 7 AM would take an average of 15 GW.  This is an average, not a maximum; even charging over a Level 1 connection limited to 1440 W the maximum would be over 21 GW.  In short, the minimum of the daily load curve could be increased by the equivalent of 14 to 20 AP1000s… every year.

    My experience is that driving a PHEV averages about 1/4 to 1/5 the fuel consumption relative to the EPA rating of the ICEV version.  If the 1/4 figure holds across the LDV spectrum, and the average LDV covers half its lifetime mileage in its first 6 years, a 100%-PHEV fleet would cut national gasoline consumption by 30% in half a decade and by 56% after 12 years.  A 56% cut amounts to about 5 million bbl/d and would more or less eliminate net US oil imports.

    The question is, what would replace them?  NGCC is good, nuclear is better.  Going electric means we could use anything we wanted to.

    1. How many batteries will be needed to provide that electricity between dusk and dawn plus the extra hours to get sufficient solar power? Note also the overlap of evening peak electrical use.
      How much will be spent to provide individual chargers at work place parking lots and who will pay for that?
      My name was on the parking building list for 3 years before I got a spot at one workplace. Thus many commercial parking facilities will also need to provide charging, doubling the parking fee in addition to charging you for the charge time.
      Does not seem to me that people have thought through the use of electric vehicles.

      1. How many batteries will be needed to provide that electricity between dusk and dawn plus the extra hours to get sufficient solar power?

        None whatsoever.  Plug-in hybrids have no relationship to solar power.  PHEVs can help you use solar power if you have daytime grid connections, but this is optional.

        How much will be spent to provide individual chargers at work place parking lots and who will pay for that?

        Good question!  The first increment is likely to be very cheap, because the switch to LED lighting leaves existing 240 VAC lighting circuits running far below capacity even at night (and of course they’re not used at all during the day).  The first round of chargers can be mounted on light poles and demand-managed centrally.

        Given that you can fully charge a 10 kWh battery at 120 VAC/12 A in a normal work day, the cost of supplying PHEVs is likely to be very low.  Of course, if you’re pulling new wire anyway you might as well spec for full EVs and go 240 VAC 30 A.  The cost of wire is a small part of the project cost.

        My name was on the parking building list for 3 years before I got a spot at one workplace. Thus many commercial parking facilities will also need to provide charging, doubling the parking fee in addition to charging you for the charge time.

        There are plenty of ways to manage payments, including micro-payments.  Charging at 120 VAC 12 A costs about 19¢/hr at the electric rates here.

        Does not seem to me that people have thought through the use of electric vehicles.

        Those of us who’ve been driving them for several years know the issues pretty well.

      2. Rich,

        The need for public charging, as well as 240 V chargers, etc.., is mostly driven by the use of pure EVs. As a PHEV (Volt) owner, I never bother with any of that. I just charge at night, in my own garage, using a standard 120V outlet.

        In other words, ~zero infrastructure cost. My gasoline usage dropped by a factor of ~6. (That ratio will vary widely for different people, based on their driving profile.) A factor of several reduction in gasoline usage is good enough. People need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    2. Much better, I think to use nuclear to synthesize hydrocarbons using the method the Navy recently developed. That allows one to keep the current infrastructure and move the needed changes to centralized refinery/synthesis plants.

      On the other hand, it sounds like going electric would reduce the total energy needed for transportation, which might have benefits.

      But electric powered transport requires giving up a lot of flexibility and convenience. I don’t like it.

      1. Much better, I think to use nuclear to synthesize hydrocarbons using the method the Navy recently developed.

        2008 called, it wants its “Green Freedom” idea back.

        That allows one to keep the current infrastructure and move the needed changes to centralized refinery/synthesis plants.

        You don’t want to keep the current infrastructure.  It causes all kinds of problems.  Replacing hydrocarbons with e.g. alcohols would be a huge improvement for almost everything but aviation.

        going electric would reduce the total energy needed for transportation, which might have benefits.

        Drastically, and it gives us massive flexibility in what we supply it from.  Moving most of the fueling energy supply from liquids supplied at central stations to electrons supplied at home/work gets rid of the overhead of separate trips for fuel.

        electric powered transport requires giving up a lot of flexibility and convenience. I don’t like it.

        Apparently you don’t understand what a plug-in hybrid is.  Mine is freaky quiet in electric mode and I fuel it maybe 4 times in a typical year.  I can go off and drive 900 miles whenever I feel like it.  I use about 1/5 the fuel of the same car with the pure ICE drivetrain, and it is vastly more convenient to just plug the connector into the fender when I park than to go find combustible liquid to put in the tank.

        I’ve burned more gas in my lawnmower and toys than I have in my car this year.  It is the best of everything.

      2. Jeff,

        As EP explains, if you go with a PHEV (e.g., a Volt) as opposed to a pure electric vehicle, there is *zero* loss of flexibility or convenience. Just plug it in at night and drive normally. No range limits at all. No organizing your life around the car and its charging needs. The car will simply switch to gasoline mode whenever necessary (i.e., when you exceed the battery’s ~50 mile range).

        You’ll find that, even if you make no effort to avoid gasoline mode, your gasoline use will drop by a factor of several (for me is was ~1/6). The reduction ratio will be especially large if you have a regular commute that isn’t too much over 50 miles roundtrip. No need to try and charge the car at work. If your commute is ~100 miles, charging at work would be nice, but even if you don’t/can’t, it’s no biggie.

        IMO, the only justification for pure EVs is that they have the potential to be less expensive than PHEVs (due to the lack of a separate gasoline drive train). Given that, they could be a valid choice for a 2nd car, used for someone’s daily commute (which has to be within the car’s battery range, with some margin).

      3. EP,

        May I ask which PHEV you drive? I’ve been a proud Volt(s) owner for over 6 years. Was a bleeding edge first adopter. Leased one in 2011, the first year they came out. I actually had to order the car, wait while they built it at the factory (in response to my order), and wait for it to be shipped to CA. They gave me updates on its progress (construction started, it’s now on a train, etc….).

        In 2014, I leased another Volt. After that lease ended, I bought the car. Have always been completely happy, and have also not seen significant range reduction. My only possible regret is that I don’t have a Volt 2.0 model, which I hear has a 50 mile, vs. 40, range.

      4. I would say that, accounting for infrastructure costs, overall economic costs, and energy (thermodynamic) efficiency of the entire process, using nuclear generated electricity to charge vehicles at night is probably the most effective way to use nuclear to power the transport sector. It’s already happening now, to some extent.

        This is not saying that nuclear could never be used to meet a need for synthetic fuels, at some point. If the (future) situation is such that synthetic fuels are needed, and we want to limit CO2 emissions, then nuclear would definitely merit consideration.

        But I do believe that the best approach would be to largely electrify the transport sector; personal vehicles if not trucking. (I like the idea of using our huge supply of natural gas to fuel trucks and other fleet vehicles. Could result in higher natural gas prices, which would then help nuclear.)

      5. May I ask which PHEV you drive?

        Ford Fusion Energi.  I’d prefer a bigger battery, but I figure when it wears out the replacement will have at least 50% higher energy density.

        My fuel consumption is less than 1/3 of the diesel it replaced, and 1/5 to 1/6 of the car before it.

      6. This is not saying that nuclear could never be used to meet a need for synthetic fuels, at some point.

        There’s a real need for “dump loads” to soak up surpluses of either intermittent or hard-to-curtail generation on our grids.  Plasma gasification of MSW is one such, if you can store the resulting syngas for later use (time-shifting).  If you gasified your garbage streams at night using excess nuclear electricity and produced gas-turbine fuel and non-leachable slag, you could eliminate a lot of landfill space and 100% of the methane leakage while supplying electric-generation fuel from a wasted resource.

      7. EP,

        You’re right that a plant that could switch from electricity production to synfuel production would be a good fit with a high degree of intermittent electricity production. I heard a great talk on the subject by MIT prof Charles Forsberg on the topic and an ANS meeting.

        OTOH, electric vehicle charging at night could help even things out a bit.

      8. You’re right that a plant that could switch from electricity production to synfuel production would be a good fit with a high degree of intermittent electricity production.

        Synfuel is fine, but if you can produce turbine-quality fuel gas that isn’t up to spec for catalytic conversion to liquids, that’s still a fine thing.  You use that to meet demand peaks, provide industrial process heat, etc.

        OTOH, electric vehicle charging at night could help even things out a bit.

        Embrace the power of “and”.  Bringing up the load minimum with demand-side managed, productive dump loads allows the “inflexible” nuclear generation to assume a much greater fraction of the total load up through mid-load because the current “off-peak” demand suddenly has so much more added flexibility.  Vehicle charging can be managed with a granularity of watts (see the J1772 protocol); this is a good complement to units consuming 20-50 MW switching on and off more or less instantaneously.

        Imagine a world where sorted, flash-frozen (for odor control) garbage is saved for night and weekend demand lulls and fed to plasma gasifiers as power is available to process it.  Maybe some of this gas stream is clean enough to turn into hydrocarbons and alcohols.  Maybe some of it’s only good for burning; that part runs the peaking-generation gas turbines.  Two problems eliminated, two more offset.  What’s not to like?

        1. @Engineer-Poet

          Since there are some components of trash that could be valuable raw materials if separated and purified, would plasma gasifiers assist in this process? If so, perhaps we could begin considering old landfills as mines for various industrial material inputs.

      9. Correct. The combination of CO2 neutral synfuels and mild hybridisation is by far the best option. Going all in on BEVs might well turn out to be a very costly blind alley.

        That’s if the production of synfuels can be scaled. Big if.

      10. Since there are some components of trash that could be valuable raw materials if separated and purified, would plasma gasifiers assist in this process?

        I doubt it.  It’s much easier to separate things before you’ve melted them all together into slag, turned some metals into oxides, etc.  You’d have to do something like treat the slag like an ore and re-smelt it.  There may be some specialized waste streams that it would work with, though.  I’m thinking electronics (separate precious metals and rare earths from plastic and fiberglass) and batteries (gasify electrolytes and graphite, recover lithium, lead, cobalt).

        perhaps we could begin considering old landfills as mines for various industrial material inputs.

        I don’t see it, not the least because the minute you un-cap a landfill you have an open source of methane emissions and malodor.  It should be enough to just stop making new ones.

      11. The combination of CO2 neutral synfuels and mild hybridisation is by far the best option.

        Speaking from experience, PHEVs give you huge bang for the buck in reducing the need for liquid fuel in the first place without needing huge batteries.  If you are using electricity as the energy source for your synfuels, the mostly-synfuel route is the least efficient and thus most costly.

        I suspect that the purpose of the “1000 nuclear reactors” Green Freedom proposal was to make the idea appear preposterous and sink the notion.  And sink it did.

      12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon-neutral_fuel

        “The U.S. Navy estimates that 100 megawatts of electricity can produce 41,000 gallons of jet fuel per day and shipboard production from nuclear power would cost about $6 per gallon.”

        My back of a envelope calculations showed that 12 Hinkley Point Cs making synfuel would be enough to cover all transportation needs in the UK assuming hybrid cars will improve to 100 mpg(UK). That’s 45 billion litres of fuel every year.

        That would cost £2.77 per 100 miles vs £3.60 per 100 miles currently for BEVs.

      13. “The U.S. Navy estimates that 100 megawatts of electricity can produce 41,000 gallons of jet fuel per day and shipboard production from nuclear power would cost about $6 per gallon.”

        I have envelope-backs too.

        2.4 GWh / 41,000 gal = 58.5 kWh/gallon.  At today’s US CAFE of ~25 MPG, this is 2.34 kWh/mile.  This is more than 10 times what my car consumes in electric mode.  It is grossly inefficient.

        assuming hybrid cars will improve to 100 mpg(UK)

        This is a bad assumption.  You need technology like adiabatic diesels to get that, and those do not meet emissions.

        My back of a envelope calculations showed that 12 Hinkley Point Cs making synfuel would be enough to cover all transportation needs in the UK …. That’s 45 billion litres of fuel every year.

        You should probably double that figure and recalculate.

        That would cost £2.77 per 100 miles vs £3.60 per 100 miles currently for BEVs.

        Where are you getting your figures for this?  I’m paying about USD0.13/kWh variable cost.  A full charge takes me ~25 miles and costs about $1.00, for a cost of USD4.00/100 miles.  At today’s exchange rate this is £3.1/100 miles.  At $7.50/imperial gallon and 60 MPG, your synfuel would cost you £9.70/100 miles.

      14. Sorry, but my figures do check out on the assumptions I’ve made. The only one I’m not being fair on perhaps is that £3.60 for BEV is UK retail prices and £2.77 was for wholesale(£40/MW). But if you are going to be making billions of litres of synfuel you’d probably own the power station too.

        Some hybrids are already edging towards 70mpg(imperial) combined, so it’s not completely unreasonable to assume that with continued improvement to both the ICE and the KERS then at some point 100mph would happen.

        Suggest you do the maths more carefully 🙂

      15. my figures do check out on the assumptions I’ve made.

        Doesn’t mean they’re unchallengeable, though.

        The only one I’m not being fair on perhaps is that £3.60 for BEV is UK retail prices and £2.77 was for wholesale(£40/MW)…. Some hybrids are already edging towards 70mpg(imperial) combined

        There’s two highly questionable assumptions.  First, the government is not going to give up its tax revenue on the fuel.  Second, aerodynamics have already been highly optimized, meaning you’re very close to the floor of the required energy at the wheels.  So have the ICEs, putting you close to the floor of fuel demand to supply that energy.  Unless you are able to make a leap to SOFCs or something, you are far, far into diminishing returns.

        But if you are going to be making billions of litres of synfuel you’d probably own the power station too.

        I thought the point was to use “cheap” wind and solar power when it was in excess of immediate demand.  Problem is, synfuel plants with sufficient capacty become the primary loads.

        Suggest you do the maths more carefully

        I couldn’t replicate your numbers because you didn’t post your assumptions until just now.  You’ll notice I gave you all of mine…hypocrite.

    3. How good are the batteries for the number of times you can recharge them before there is significant loss of capacity? I am unimpressed with the batteries for laptop computers on that factor & my understanding if that EV & PHEV batteries are the same technology.

      1. They’re a bunch of different chemistries.  Tesla uses the laptop chemistry (LiCoO), but my understanding is that most PHEVs run on lithium-iron phosphate or lithium-titanium spinel because of the greater specific power required of the smaller batteries.

        I’m 4 years into owning a PHEV and the range hasn’t changed.

      2. Too bad Apple can’t seem or want to make a battery that doesn’t change in capacity in 4 years :/

      1. That’s a very interesting document.

        It projects some 7000 GWh/yr of demand from the EVs by 2028.  This is an average load of almost 800 MW.  If you packed the charging into the overnight hours, the fleet would pull down most of the output of Diablo Canyon or a refurbished San Onofre all by itself.  So much for wee-hour surpluses.

        Another possible use is to re-shape the “duck-belly curve”.  If the PEV fleet starts charging in the late afternoon when the balancing plants need to come on-line, and then tapers off the charge rate as PV output falls, the ramp rate requirements for the balancing plants can be reduced.

        1. @E-P

          I like the idea of creating an EV charging window near the peak of solar electricity production. Batteries naturally charge with a high initial rate and gradually taper off as battery voltage nears the fully charged state. Maybe EVs provided with programmable charging capabilities could be designed to avoid attempting to use this opportunistic charging window on days with deep overcast. (Just thinking out loud here.)

      2. Rod, that’s what constant-voltage chargers do, but practically nothing used today actually does that.  Aside from the Tesla Supercharger, they are all constant-power systems up until the battery is almost full.

        If you look at the J1772 protocol, the charger tells the vehicle what current draw it is allowed.  This can be to e.g. limit the drain based on the circuit; a standard “convenience cord” will limit out at 12 amps based on 80% of the conventional 15 A circuit rating.  However, this system could be used strategically to manage load ramp rates by pre-loading the grid when output of some generators is projected to fall.

        On overcast days in PV-heavy areas, the dispatchables would be running all day and charging would be less of an issue.  You’d want to start early in the morning and taper off as other demand peaked.  Ideally the customers would get a discount for being both interruptible and also providing spinning reserve (chargers can instantly reduce draw or go off-line on command).

  2. Remember that DOE has likely been thoroughly infiltrated by UCS operatives. Between Hlobloch as Chief of Staff and the woman whose name I can’t remember being given charge of an ever increasing number of departments, there has been ample opportunity in the last four years to stack the staff and issue “guidance” that renewables will be sacrosanct and nuclear will not be given a break.

    Perry will need to clean house if he wants meaningful information out of DOE at this point.

  3. I am skeptical that economic growth has been as robust as claimed and the follow on conclusion that the link between electricity demand growth and economic growth has fundamentally changed presumably due to increases in energy efficiency or policies of demand management.

    First, the statistics which measure economic activity are distorted for political reasons and the infrastructure for obtaining these statistics has degraded.

    Second, energy efficiency often frees purchasing power to increase demand for other goods and services.

    Third, a large portion of our manufacturing base has moved overseas. Though we import the goods, we are also importing the energy used in the production of those goods but this energy consumption is not entered into the ledger.

    Fourth, most of our population growth has come from immigration, mostly from impoverished areas who remain at the lower economic strata and probably use more energy here than they did in their country of origin, but significantly less than the average American.

    Fifth, the illusion of economic growth has been sustained by massive inflows of credit based on debt. Much of this “wealth” is channeled into the financial markets and creates paper growth but no real growth. This is unsustainable and will end very badly.

    1. “I am skeptical that economic growth has been as robust as claimed.”

      I second your skepticism. I travel quite a lot and talk to the people in gas stations, fast food places and similar places. Many of them are not teenagers. Many of them are working two or three jobs to “get by.” These people do not complain, but just state the facts. If times were as good as is reported, these folks would have 40 hour week jobs with benefits.

      If the factories were running like they used to, electrical demand would be much higher. There is a lot of electrical transmission infrastructure that is very underutilized.

      1. The recent statistics on opioid abuse supports your skepticism. I heard that alcohol abuse is up also. That suggests a lot of people in despair to me.

  4. As long as I’m in a chattering mood….

    Has Brave New Climate stopped posting new updates? I saw that Ben Heard seems to have a new rather focused web site/blog up and I’m wondering if the efforts/topics that would formerly appear on Barry Brooks’ site are going to Ben Heard’s new site.

    1. I stopped reading the open thread because it just takes too long to load, and there hasn’t been anything else going on there.  If Barry would restart them at 500 comments I’d come back.

    2. Barry Brook answered my email requesting a new Open Thread by stating he has abandoned Brave New Climate .

        1. My guess is that Barry found better ways to invest his time.

          Running a blog & discussion board doesn’t provide a high reward to effort ratio.

  5. I’m not sure any policies that significantly affect the market will come from this. The federal govt. (esp. under Trump) will probably not intervene much in the markets. The states will continue to be the main driver. Also, I’ve always considered grid reliability, as well as fuel diversity (and now, even “national security”??), to be pathetically weak arguments. The main arguments for nuclear have always been environmental.

    I suppose they’re trying to find arguments that the GOP and Trump will respond to… The disgusting part is how this report could actually lead to policies that would actually *help* coal (which is unjustifiable from any reasonable point of view).

    If everyone’s so concerned about market interventions, then why isn’t anyone making an issue of the vastly larger interventions associated with state renewable portfolio standards (in CA, it 50%!!!). If Trump really want to do something meaningful, in the name of “market competition”, he would find a way to strike down all state RPS policies. That would impress me….

  6. Another important point concerns weak demand. Flat demand does not bode well at all for new nuclear, and is one more strong argument for going to SMRs. Due to lack of need, there will only be a few new, large reactors built, even if things were going well. Thus, the number of units will remain too small for the industry to ever get good at it. We’ll never get out of FOAK land…. And the financial risks will be too great. An argument can be made that large reactors only make sense for countries (e.g., China) with strong demand growth.

    Even with weak demand, however, existing nuclear should get credit for its non-polluting nature, so that we don’t see non-polluting nuclear plants be replaced by gas plants. Gas plants and renewables should be used to replace coal instead.

    Another thing people need to understand, with respect to the pernicious effects of renewables mandates, is that not only is new renewable generation mandated regardless of cost or practicality, but it is mandated to be built even if there is no need/demand for the extra generation. This, of course, puts the market into a glut, resulting in very low wholesale prices, which in turn result in the forced closure of existing generation (with “non-flexible” generation like coal and nuclear, vs. gas, being under particular pressure).

    1. In a sensible world, we’d be building new nuclear at a rapid pace to replace existing coal, even if overall demand is flat or receding…

      In a sensible world…

      1. Yeah, but there ain’t enough political will, and associated policy input, for that… Also, SMRs have the potential to be used as boiler replacements for coal plants. Large reactors, not so much.

      2. Don’t get me wrong, I think SMRs are worth pursuing, especially to the point of bringing a demonstration plant on line, maybe at INL or elsewhere. But, that said, I don’t see them as a talisman for nuclear’s woes. Placing the onus on a perceived misguided attempt to make large-scale LWRs workable is more blaming the symptom for the cause. We need to look elsewhere to understand the root cause. Nuclear suffers from an infection that is systemic and not local, and we really should be focusing on the institutional issues that have made it difficult to be competitive. High on the list has to be (and I know we’ve harped on this before) convincing those who make the rules that nuclear is somehow “special”, and needs to be treated more harshly from a regulatory and quality viewpoint than other industries. That’s not to say we should not (and we now do not) hold ourselves to high standards. But there seems to be this perception that if we don’t do a 10,000% inspection and QA of every nut and bolt, an accident will happen that will destroy the universe as we know it.

    2. Poster Jeff Walther makes a good point that if we believe that decarbonization should be a national policy, there is more than enough justification to look at expanding the nuclear fleet, if the capital costs can be brought down to some manageable level. This is where the industry has to step up, maybe work more closely with the craft unions to reach an understanding for controlling labor costs and increasing productivity. But, geez, it seems to me that replacing coal with natural gas isn’t really doing as well as we can and should on the carbon reduction goal. Going from 1000 g of CO2 equivalent from coal to 400 g in a NGCC and essentially no sulfur and little nitrous oxides is great, but nuclear gives you 6 g CO2 equivalent and no sulfur or NOx. Hard to beat that if carbon reduction is the goal, and getting the coal burners and the nukes online is a strong argument.

    3. Wayne,

      I agree that significant reduction in regulations and QA requirements are justified for large reactors as well (and that the whole mindset of nuclear being unique is unjustified).

      However, the realist in me thinks that such reform may be impossible to sell, politically. I think that the inherent safety and much smaller potential source term for SMRs may make the arguments strong (and obvious) enough to win the day.

      Some SMR developers are saying that even if every single component fails, and even if the worst conceivable (totally non-mechanistic) meltdown event were to occur, radiation levels above the range of natural background would not occur anywhere outside the site boundary. That strikes me as a pretty compelling argument. And we will need compelling arguments for the confrontation with NRC, and perhaps many politicians, that will need to occur.

      For large reactors, on the other hand, people have a firm view of what the consequences of a worst-case meltdown would be (i.e., of component failure, if we don’t go to the ends of the earth to ensure perfect quality). That is, Fukushima. Even though scientists are saying few if any deaths will result, it may be impossible to convince the NRC and the public etc.., that Fukushima events are acceptable, or that an increased frequency of such events is OK.

      1. James, no question that SMRs offer a different paradigm and that is worth pursuing. Running a demonstration plant successfully could show that the systems work together and any technical issues can be addressed at the demonstration phase.

        My concern is that as long as institutional barriers remain significant, the potential savings in cost may not be realized. As you note, any kind of shift towards less stringency in regulatory requirements, even for smaller source terms, may be a tough sell politically and in the public mind. I have worked at both very large (NPP) and very small (research reactors) facilities and whenever I talk to people about them, they get triggered when you say the “r” word (reactor). As soon as that comes out, its like, okay, for security, you need a private army, never mind any kind of risk-informed approach to requirements.

      2. Wayne,

        You’re definitely right that unless things change significantly (i.e., if the institutional barriers remain) then loss of economy of scale will prevent SMRs from being significantly cheaper. My view is that trying to make changes to the existing system will not be enough. We need to start over, with a fresh sheet of paper. And my view is that SMRs’ fundamental advantages may provide the justification we need for doing so.

        Instead of starting totally from scratch, it’s possible that there are other examples that we could follow. I’ve mentioned both research reactors and dry storage casks, and the licensing processes and requirements that apply to each, as possible starting points.

        I had heard that the requirements and licensing processes for research reactors are MUCH less stringent than those which apply for power reactors. My argument would be that SMRs should be treated like research reactors, as both are essentially incapable of causing significant public harm. Could you share any insights, based on your experience, on what the requirements (and QA standards, etc..) are for research reactors, as compared with large power reactors?

      3. James, that’s an interesting thought. The facility I worked at was one of the first wherein inspectors took a risk-informed viewpoint when it came to I&E. Perhaps SMRs could be treated likewise. Licensing issues were still a challenge, but mainly because of limited resources at the facility. We never did quite get to fully digital systems. Some, primarily display and operator information, made it that far, but not controls, and certainly nothing related to safety systems. Software v&v was just too much of a barrier. I know various vendors (GA, Siemens, etc.) offered turnkey systems, but we didn’t think those would fit our needs, so we wanted to try it ourselves. Perhaps this was a mistake, but in any case it never got that far.

        When it came to QA, we had to fight hard to convince suppliers that not all of the things we had them doing were necessarily in need of Class 1E classification when performing their functions. It seemed like the supply chain was overly inculcated with the notion that everything related to a reactor (of any kind) had to be Class 1E.

        Finally, I have to say that in terms of requirements placed on power reactors and those on research reactors, it was often the case that sh*t flows downhill. Eventually we had to deal with issues that were originating in the power redactor side and working their way down, often with modifications, to the little guys. That is a pattern that either has to be stopped or reversed.

      4. What if the small modular reactor was not built in the United States? Would that still provide a sufficient track record to justify “as needed” regulations? I suspect these regulations would be much less than the present regulations. I have looked at my power bill and there is an item for the cost it takes to purchase the generated power. It seems to me that less regulations would mean that it costs less to generate each kwhr of electricity. This would be a true “trickle down” effect.

        Lower costs are definitely a way to sell small modular reactors to the end user. This coupled with the fact that it is clean safe energy with largely constant costs for the next 20 years or so ought to be a good pitch.

        Getting that first one built is the major hurdle.

      5. Perhaps NuScale should consider a heavily instrumented, live-fire test and deliberately cause a hypothetical core damage precursor event at the Idaho prototype. No operator intervention for 72 hours.

        If successful, it should dispell most serious opposition. It would not satisfy Greenpeace etc. Most importantly, it could quell reservations among potential utility customers.

        Obviously, judicious thought would have to go into this.

  7. FermiAged regarding a Nuscale test: Not unless the DoE pays for the whole thing on a separately constructed module.

    The Nuscale 12pak to be built on the INL reservation is to provide needed power for a consortium of Idaho and Utah utilities. The utilities are not in the reactor demonstration business.

    Incidentally, it seems that they want to start with just a few modules, adding more as power needs go up when some coal burners retire. Since the INL site is not so far from the considerable wind resource in Wyoming, this becomes complicated.

    1. So maybe it should be a combined research/commercial venture. INL donates the land and perhaps some in-kind engineering assistance and pays for an extra Nuscale module or two for research purposes at a separate site (with some in-kind help from Nuscale in instrumenting and operating the test units), and runs some kind of test to damage or test to failure experiments. Meanwhile the commercial facility operates as planned and does the real-world operational demonstration. Seems to me there would be benefit to the commercial side to show a successful test that demonstrates inherent safety. Likewise there would be benefit to the research side (e.g., INL mission) in proving the technology and moving forward with further development. If SMRs are going to have any chance of being accepted, this kind of venture is probably necessary.

      1. This would be a better use of DOE funds than most of their other programs. If the test results in severe core damage yet is contained in the reactor vessel, that is a significant feat. Further, if the vessel can serve as a disposal container and the unit replaced, concerns about multi-billion dollar cleanup costs go away.

        It would be interesting to see this test done using one of the fault-tolerant fuels.

      2. If the worst-case test results in no fuel damage, that’s an even bigger feat.

        I’ve been wondering about the prospects for walk-away safe light-water breeders, since the Pa-233 has a half-life of 27 days and thus significant and extended heat output.  I just calculated the delta in mass between Pa-233 and U-233; if I haven’t dropped a decimal point, it comes to about 600 kEv.  In other words, at shutdown in equilibrium operation the Pa-233 decay heat comes to around 0.3% of the operating thermal output of the reactor.  After 27 days it would be about 0.15%.

        In a NuScale-sized unit (160 MW(t)), 0.3% comes to less than half a megawatt.  This sounds manageable.

        1. @E-P

          One reason I have been fascinated with Triso particle-based fuels for more than 20 years is that moderate power output versions (up to 300 MWth) have been demonstrated – several times – to be able to withstand a complete loss of pressure and loss of flow without scram and without core damage.

          The fuel design is robust and can withstand temperatures higher than what they will ever see without releasing substantial quantities of fission products. In nearly every case, there is no damage to the core materials, so the reactor can be restored to service once the casualties have been repaired.

      3. How interesting that if I write a comment with a bunch of numbers in it, it almost always gets stuck in moderation.

      4. Half a MWt could possibly be handled by structural absorption/losses to ambient. NuScale relies on a thermos-bottle approach to insulate the reactor vessel in order to avoid insulation debris issues. If that vacuum is broken (as it would be in a vessel leak), better heat transfer can be obtained. Plus, surface area to volume ratio is probably more favorable than in current reactors.

        Not sure what effect helical coil steam generators have on primary-secondary leaks, steam line/feed line breaks.

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