Apparently my meeting radar was off recently and I missed learning about the Global Nuclear Renaissance Summit in Alexandria, Virginia on 24 July until it was too late. I would have taken time from my day job, especially if I would have known that Dale Klein was going to spend some time talking about the potential for small reactors. Fortunately, one of you – thanks R. – sent me a link to an article in World Nuclear News titled Low priority for new reactors that covered the speech reasonably well. According to WNN:
Dale Klein of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) praised the design genre at the Global Nuclear Renaissance Summit in Alexandria, Virginia on 24 July. He said he believed that the units could be used to provide process heat to industrial plants or to produce hydrogen. They could be especially valuable when used to provide power to people who currently live without, he noted, citing Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow who demonstrated the strong link between the availability of energy and economic growth.
However, Klein continued to say that he was “not at all bothered by the fact that there is no current interest” in those reactors in the USA. Klein said: “We have our hands full” with applications to build new mainstream reactors, “and the last thing I want to do is encourage submittal of additional new designs.”
Of course, that comment is not really what I would like to hear, but it is good to know where the government currently stands on the issue. That knowledge is important for use in planning a strategy to change the direction and reorder the priorities.
Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat posted a much more nuanced and detailed comment about Commissioner Klein’s speech Small reactors have NRC’s attention. Here is a quote:
Klein said the NRC has been contacted by several designers of small, advanced reactors, and that his agency takes no position on which ones ought to succeed or fail. The commercial outcome, Klein said, depends on market issues.
That said he noted small reactors cost a lot less and may be very attractive for that reason in developing nations which need energy for economic growth. He said “reliable electricity can literally change people’s lives.” Klein clearly is focused on small reactors. He said,
My own view is that these small, advanced designs offer enormous possibilities for providing both electricity and process heat, and for improving the standard of living for people in the developing world in the near future, and perhaps even for people here in the U.S. in the long term.
Despite these attractions, NRC isn’t seeing any interest by U.S. customers.
That’s the ticket! The supporters of small reactors need to attract some customer attention. We need to continue talking to the businesses that need power in places that are not well served by the grid – places like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Guam where a lot of electricity comes from burning oil in diesel engines and costs close to 30 cents per kilowatt hour – and rising.
Small reactors projects deserve a separate line or customer service window at the NRC. Not only can they be constructed more rapidly after receiving their licenses, but they have the potential to compete directly with oil in many locations. If we can convince the NRC to set up that kind of access, it is important to understand just what the NRC will expect. Half baked ideas and back of the napkin sketches just will not do the trick. I am pretty sure that there are a number of designs that are well enough along to be able to withstand licensing scrutiny after just a few more months of dedicated effort.
Here is another suggestion from Mr. Klein that I think is a great idea. According to Dan Yurman,
…he encouraged industry to form technical working groups to start figuring out how to build small reactors, especially modular groups of them, for U.S. customers.
Here is a little piece of inside information – I have been contacted by some people involved in the maritime industry who have invited me to renew my participation in the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineer’s panel number M-48 – Nuclear Power that will discuss current and future technologies and licensing issues.
The ocean shipping industry currently consumes about 6% of the world’s daily oil production and is challenged in many areas to reduce its emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, mercury and soot. It is a natural application for small reactors – after all, they have been operating at sea for more than 50 years.