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40 Comments

  1. Why not 10 years ago ? What a wasted opportunity.

    Watch Russia to the finish with floating SMR that also desalinate water out of the box.

      1. @ Jim,

        I really like pebble bed reactors. They can be configured to use Thorium as breeders to extend the life of the Core. They are super super safe and fairly easy to recycle the fuel.

        I don’t like Helium as a working gas for Nuclear Reactors. It is too expensive to develop the turbines and Helium is a very rare gas. So, expensive to start off and then expensive to keep going. Helium is very difficult to keep trapped.

        Rod has pointed the way to using Nitrogen as the working gas. This means off the shelf turbines and very very inexpensive working gas that is super abundant.

  2. The rhyme is from Longfellow…

    There was a little girl, who had a little curl
    Right in the middle of her forehead,
    And when she was good, she was very, very good,
    But when she was bad she was horrid.

  3. Rod–

    I suggest that you might want to check with the NRC’s Office of the General Counsel concerning the interpretation you discuss with regard to insurance, and particularly the deferred premiums in the event of a major accident. You state (in part):

    “Without a rule change, a 720 MWe installation that has four individual B&W mPowerTM reactors, each producing 180 MWe, would owe four times as much money to the pool as a single 1300 MWe Westinghouse 4 loop reactor.”

    However, both the Atomic Energy Act (Part 170) and the NRC’s regulations (10 CFR 140.11) contain the following language:

    “…where a person is authorized to operate a combination of 2 or more nuclear reactors located at a single site, each of which has a rated capacity of 100,000 or more electrical kilowatts but not more than 300,000 electrical kilowatts with a combined rated capacity of not more than 1,300,000 electrical kilowatts, each such combination of reactors shall be considered to be a single nuclear reactor for the sole purpose of assessing the applicable financial protection required under this section.

    In other words, my reading is that a site containing more than one reactor rated between 100 and 300 MW (electric) with a total generating capacity less than 1300 MWe is treated as a single reactor for the purposes of assessing these amounts.

    If my interpretation is correct (I’m a nuclear engineer, not a lawyer), then the “non-starter” you describe is does not exist–and if someone is using it as an excuse for not pursuing SMRs, he/she is simply blowing smoke, to put it politely.

    Also note, by the way, that you refer to the possible need for a “rule change.” Notwithstanding the above issue, the NRC’s rules in this regard reflect the requirements of the so-called Price-Anderson amendments to the Atomic Energy Act. Any change in the requiremements in this regard do not simply involve “rule changes” (i.e., to the NRC’s regulations)–but rather, changes to the governing legislation, which much come first. (The changes discussed above in the definition of a “single” reactor were part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, PL 109-58.)

    There are other regulatory requirements that may impose what the industry might consider “undue” burdens on SMRs, because they were written for large power reactors, but I don’t think this is one of them.

    1. So an mPower installation up to a “7-pack” would be ONE reactor for Price-Anderson purposes?  Fascinating.

      1. That’s how it reads to me. The real question, though, is could you build 7 mPower units at a single site at a cost less than or equal to one 1260 (or larger) reactor? Economies of scale vs. economies of serial production is what it comes down to, in the end.

        1. My guess is that the plan would be that for an Nth-of-a kind, you could. Then the question becomes “How many is N?”.

    2. Additional comment: I have not tried to determine how NuScale’s design would be treated in this regard. Each of its reactors is less than 100 MWe, so the above provisions in the AEA and 10 CFR Part 140 would appear not to apply.

      1. Old Nuke,
        How about this for an “appear not to apply” situation.
        Look at the “Definitions” section (10 CFR 140.3) (I am a lawyer and I always go to the definitions in statutes and regulations — they can be amazingly different from what you would typically expect and the definition set forth by the legislature or the regulator trumps any dictionary (or other) definition one might otherwise have in mind.)
        10 CFR 140.3 (f) Nuclear reactor means any apparatus,
        other than an atomic weapon,
        designed or used to sustain nuclear fission
        in a self-supporting chain reaction.

        Hmmm . . . “in a self-supporting chain reaction”
        My thoughts turn to particle accelerator driven subcritical reactors.
        They are not “self supporting chain reactions”, are they?
        Hence, under the definition adopted by the NRC, such “devices” are not actually “reactors”.

        1. @Rick Armknecht

          Interesting. However, since I’m a bit of an entrepreneur, cost analyst, and engineer, I’m not sure how one would take advantage of that situation. Particle accelerators are quite an expensive additional complexity when the goal is to produce large quantities of reliable heat from nuclear fission.

        2. An accelerator, even in a configuration such that it drives a subcritical pile, is not a reactor, and until recently, if I’m not mistaken, the NRC did not regulate them. I’m not sure what the situation is now–i.e., if an accelerator is used to produce or transmute radioactive materials, as would be the case in the configuration you propose. I seem to recall that some changes were made in the NRC’s authority in this regard (possibly in the 2005 Energy Policy Act), but I’d have to do more research–and I don’t have the time to do that right now. I can tell you, however, that a company that wants to produce medical isotopes using–I think–an accelerator-driven system (the company is a spin-off from the U. of Wisconsin, called “Shine”) currently has an application under NRC review, so I infer from that fact that the NRC does now have authority in that regard.

          In any case, the insurance and fees to which reactors are subject, as discussed in 10 CFR Part 140, do not apply to accelerators, because accelerators are not reactors. And I’m not aware of any proposals to use an accelerator-driven subcritical system to generate heat and/or electric power. I can only speculate on how the NRC would handle such a proposal under its current rules.

        3. Rod and Old Nuke,

          While there may not be any proposals in America to use an accelerator-driven subcritical system to generate heat and/or electric power, Japan, India and Belgium are each pursuing the possibility (see http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Accelerator-driven-Nuclear-Energy/).
          I also recall seeing a video on developments in cutting the cost of particle accelerators (an English company produced the video about its own research, I believe).

          If the regulatory scheme favors ADS nuclear power, then that is certainly a factor to take into consideration.

          1. @Rick Armknecht

            There are certainly others who are interested in the technology. I was simply expressing my evaluation of its likelihood of success. There are plenty of engineers that like attempting to solve hard technical challenges. I’m not one of them. I prefer simple engineering and a focus on solving human imposed barriers.

            For example – I consider it far easier to change the words in the regulations than to attempt to make accelerator driven sub-critical systems competitive with a reactor that has sufficient excess reactivity to handle load changes, start-ups and shutdowns with ease.

  4. Please excuse the cut and paste from EFT blog but I think it is relevant:
    It seems possible to me that two promising technological leaps forward in light water reactor fuel rod designs will be tested and proven and perhaps licensed by the time Babcock and Wilcox (BWC), Westinghouse and NuScale are ready to commercialize their SMR designs, rendering these designs somewhat obsolete at birth. The research into silicon carbide cladding seems to have solved the problem of brazing on end caps. The research into beryllium oxide laced uranium oxide pellets has just proven the ability to manufacture them with consistent results. The latter improves thermal conductivity tremendously, reducing the internal operating temperature and improving safety. The new cladding has been shown to withstand temperatures of up to 1800*C without weakening. Among other things, this is said to enable the fuel to stay in the reactor much longer, decreasing costs. Not to mention eliminating the use of zirconium and its production of hydrogen under loss of coolant accidents, with explosive results (Fukushima). Meanwhile, Lightbridge’s all metallic fuel, with its much cooler internal temperatures and cost effective power uprates, appears to be making steady strides toward commercialization. In yesterday’s webinar, Lightbridge’s Seth Grae stated that their agreement with Babcock and Wilcox to explore a pilot facility for making short test versions of their new fuel rod, seem to have accelerated and morphed into looking for sites suitable for actual production of fuel rods. If this is so, perhaps BWC is thinking about redesigning their mPower to take advantage of the new all-metallic rods they appear to be collaborating with Lightbridge on.

    1. @Paul Wick

      Those are great developments, but I don’t understand why they would make the proposed designs obsolete. Changing and improving the core doesn’t change the need to have a system for moving the heat to a turbine generator.

      1. In a previous webinar, in response to my question of whether the Areva EPR could be redesigned to take advantage of the 30% power uprate attributed to their metallic fuel, Lightbridge’s Seth Grae said it could, yielding upwards of 2 gigs (from 1.6GWe now). So pipes, pumps, heat exchangers and turbines and so forth could be upgraded, yielding more power for modest capital expenditure for a PWR (or conversely, a smaller core, and a similar power output.) I’m not sure if the silicon carbide/beryllium oxide fuel rod proponents claim possible power uprates. SiC cladding does virtually eliminate hydrogen production in a LOCA situation; and the Lightbridge all-metallic fuel is said to reach a maximum temperature 200* below hydrogen formation with loss-of-coolant. As well, both new techology rods operate at much, much lower internal temperatures. So one would presume redesigns of redundant safety systems would be advantageous.

        1. “So pipes, pumps, heat exchangers and turbines and so forth could be upgraded…”

          I recognize that you are probably talking about designs that are not yet installed thus making this seem very simple just change components. However, engineers would be face with new condensate pumps, new feedwater pumps, new feedwater heaters and, God forbid, a new Main Condenser. New piping designs and new high and low pressure turbines. Increased heat removal in the main condenser would very likely mean new circulating water pumps and a new cooling tower. Lets look at the electrical end with a new main transformer(s) and auxiliary transformers stretching through medium voltage distribution busses. This doesn’t even go into the impact on accident analyses where containment pressure and temperature would be impacted. Dare I mention the licensing costs? Since we’re talking about a PWR you would likely need new Steam Generators?
          Just by way of comparison look at the costs of the uprate at Grand Gulf and Monticello – $500-$800B for uprates of ~70 to 250 MWe.

          New and more rugged fuel designs especially if they improve on Zirc cladding are wonderful but I don’t think you are going to retrofit existing designs.

          1. @Jim Rogers

            You wrote:

            Just by way of comparison look at the costs of the uprate at Grand Gulf and Monticello – $500-$800B for uprates of ~70 to 250 MWe. (Emphasis added.)

            Just guessing here, but should that ‘B’ be an ‘M’? I know nuclear plant upgrades can be expensive, but I hardly think that upgrading one plant has a cost approaching the annual budget for the entire Department of Defense.

    2. With all due respect, I would estimate the time to commercialize a new fuel design, starting from today, as between 10 and 15 years–assuming that there are prospective customers; the timeline for small LWRs is not quite that long. And I’d be VERY skeptical of metal fuel for LWRs. I’m well aware of its superior thermal properties; I’m also aware of its drawbacks in a water-cooled reactor.

  5. Rod, In 2008, I did an analysis of the optimal size of a factory manufactured and easily transported MSR was 100 MWe. A larger core would probably not be truck transportable, although a larger train transportable MSR was conceivable. If the reactor was barge transportable, it could be considerably larger, maybe 500 MWe. Multiple factory manufactured MSRs could be housed on Coal fired power plant sites, and reactor cores buried underground, an approach that appears to have been adopted by NuScale.

    MSRs can be housed on the grounds of many coal fired power plant. Thus replacing dirty coal with clean Molten Salt Reactor power. The grid hook ups of the coal fired plants can be reused with electricity generated by the MSRs. The MSR can use LEU, with or without thorium.

    The Chinese appear to be planning an modified vorsion of this scheme, with much larger LFTR.

    The 100 MWe MSR can be transported by truck, as well as train and barge. It can be built with a variety of metals, and with titanium of operating at over 1000 C. It can use a variety of energy generating systems, including steam, supercritical CO2, and GE open air turbines. It is extremely safe, even without underground housing, it will burn its own actinide waste. Its fission products should not be considered wast, because they or their daughter products include many valuable materials, and they or their daughter products will stop being dangerous within 300 years.

    The Chinese, working with ORNL plans, estimate that they can produce a LFTR ready for commercial production by 2024, using a staff that is about half the size of the current ORNL staff. They believe that they can accomplish this in 10 years.

    It seems likely that in the United States, a smaller staff, using ORNL MSRE tested technology could build a very useful 100 MWe MSR that be massed produced, and shipped all over the country and indeed all over the world. These mass pr5oduced reactors could very quickly replace coal, and as Robert Hargraves has repeatedly pointed out, replace coal at a price that is lower than coal.

    1. The Chinese are actually constructing a small modular high-temperature pebble-bed reactor system, the HTR-PM based off their experimental HTR-10 design which is, I think, currently the only grid-connected pebble-bed reactor operational anywhere. The initial HTR-PM installation being built in Shidaowan comprises two reactor modules feeding a single 210MWe turbine, expected grid operation is late 2017 if all goes well. There are future plans to build another 18 HTR modules on the same site for a total generating capacity exceeding a single conventional EPR. Saying that the same site will eventually house two CAP1400 reactors (first concrete on the first of these was poured a few days ago) and there are plans to build several AP1000 reactors there too.

      1. @Robert Sneddon

        The HTR-PM is an intriguing reactor design. Once well proven and in full production, it seems almost perfectly suited to be a coal furnace replacement. As we all know, the Chinese have been building a large number of new steam plants during the past decade. They achieve some impressive atmospheric clean-up by replacing the furnaces and boilers with high temperature nuclear steam supply systems. A bonus would be much cheaper power and a suddenly less crowded railroad system that would then be able to transport more interesting goods out of the country, perhaps all the way to Europe.

  6. Natural gas is here to stay– only– if governments give up on doing anything about greenhouse gas produced climate change, rising sea levels, and the acidification of the oceans. But you’re not going to solve the problem of placing excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere– by using more fossil fuels.

    Small nuclear reactors offer the chance of gradually increasing the amount of carbon neutral electricity at existing sites in the US until they’ve completely replaced the use of fossil fuels for base load electricity production in America.

    Small nuclear reactors will also present us with the opportunity to produce carbon neutral synfuels from seawater that could completely replace our need for fossil fuels for peak load electricity production and transportation fuels.

    Marcel

    1. Spent fuel is a valuable commodity, owned by the tax payers, that can be recycled to create even more clean energy.

      Plus the amount of toxic waste created in the nuclear industry per kilowatt produced is tiny compared to the toxic waste produced for the meager amounts of electricity produced by the solar industry.

      Solar industry grapples with hazardous wastes

      http://news.yahoo.com/solar-industry-grapples-hazardous-wastes-184714679.html.

      The Future of Ocean Nuclear Synfuel Production

      http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-future-of-ocean-nuclear-synfuel.html

      Marcel

      1. @Marcel F. Williams

        Spent fuel is a valuable commodity, owned by the tax payers, that can be recycled to create even more clean energy.

        I’m not so sure about the “owned by taxpayers” part. Until the DOE actually takes title to the fuel and moves it away from the site where it was initially used, I think that the utilities actually own the asset. Of course, most of them currently consider that asset to be a liability that incurs a continuing additional cost while they have to store and protect it, waiting for the DOE to perform its legal obligation.

        I used to think about the money making potential of setting up a few concrete pads near a suitably convenient railroad intersection and offering the service of taking those liabilities off of the hands of the current owners. Once we had a suitably extensive inventory to support a continuous process, I’d then obtain permission to recycle the material. Of course, the downfall of that dream is the incredibly arduous process of obtaining permission, plus the fact that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 gives the government a monopoly on the used fuel business — even though they apparently have no inclination to do the job.

  7. Its strange Radiation Therapy units don’t need to carry liability insurance that I know of. Not that I think its actually needed but there have been a few mishaps unrelated to their intended use and I am forever hearing of their potential for “dirty bomb” applications. (of course of people receiving high dose therapy to treat a variety of life threatening and quality of life issues the cancer rate later in life from these treatments, assuming it is related is suspected to be around 1/1000 or below.)

    At present there are about 2200 of these in the developing world with many more desperately needed ( http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/TreatingCancer/treatingcancer.pdf )

    As a matter of fact it looks like far far more suffer and die from lack of access to Radiation than ever did because of it. Including this time, weapons tests and actual use.

    1. I’m not sure I see the connection here. Radiation therapy is a medical procedure, and I would assume that all such facilities (at least in the US) carry liability insurance under their normal medical malpractice policies that would cover medical misadministrations in this regard. My knowledge of the regulations dealing with the medical (or industrial) uses of radioactive materials is far less in-depth than my knowledge of reactor regulations, but the potential economic consequences of an accident involving those uses are much less than the potential consequences of a severe accident in a reactor; that was the driver for the AEA and NRC regulatory provisions concerning liability insurance for reactor accidents.

      Incidentally, you underestimate the number of “mishaps” related to medical and industrial uses of radioactive materials. Each year, the NRC sends a report to Congress on significant events involving its licensees. The vast majority of those events are related to medical misadministrations and other occurrences involving non-reactor uses of radioactive materials. In some years, there are no reactor-related events at all. And people have been seriously injured in some of these cases. (I do not recall if there have been any deaths.)

      As far as “dirty bombs” are concerned, it’s an interesting conjecture, but the consensus (among experts I’ve seen/heard/read) is that the radiological consequences of such an event would likely be minimal, as far as the threat to public health and safety is concerned. The consequences of the blast itself would likely be far greater. But if a licensee did not adequately protect radioactive material and allowed it to be diverted for such a device, the NRC could take regulatory action against the licensee. In any case, that would be a situation where the material was not being used for its intended purpose. That’s different from a reactor accident, where the facility was being used as intended but underwent an event that culminated in the release of significant quantities of radioactive materials to the environment.

      1. Well honestly I never really thought it made sense. There has never been a effective mass causality inducing dispersal of material in either case. Accident or terrorist incident. I just wondered as long as long as they were more or less requiring extensive liability coverage from on high, why not there as well. I guess it just doesn’t work that way.

        BTW here is the one such incident that got me derailed on that track

        Stolen radiotherapy unit sparks soul-searching on nuclear security ( http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2013/12/stolen-radiotherapy-unit-cobalt-60-nuclear-security )

        I still think its strange that no one really even knows how much these units and doctors trained to use them are needed in many places, especially if the iaea report (2003) above is to believed, and say just 25 to 100 patients (very low) a year were to benefit from the 5000 needed devices; it would involve a absolutely huge number of people. Unfortunately as public awareness goes more seem to know about the TJ incident and embarrassingly low fuku radiation. I didnt know about the need to ll I stumbled across it looking for something else. I never even heard of the x-ray hearing treatment thing until today.

  8. Re: Nuclear Kenya
    http://chic.clipsyndicate.com/video/playlist/1510/5020807?cpt=8&title=ans_nuclear_clips&wpid=752

    An appeal for help in advancing pro-nuclear accuracy in developing nations! I’m unable to find a way to leave a comment or feedback at “Clip” or AllAfrica regarding this video piece, which blatantly displays burning oil fires during a Fukushima take and constantly alludes to any nuclear plant as a potential Fukushima. There is no mistake about Clip’s green intentions, as Clip very favorably follow-up on windmills ruining Kenya’s famous natural landscape then on waste site “hazards”. I wish to correct Clip in their place! If anyone knows how I drop a reproving comment at Clip and AllAfrica please inform me ASAP.

    Thanks

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  9. Having just gotten back from a Safari in Africa, I would be very saddened to see that Windmills were marring the landscape. Gasoline in South Africa is close to 6 or 7 dollars a gallon, almost twice the rate in the USA. They were making good progress toward a pebble bed reactor when the cost of development for a Helium turbine was more than they were willing to pay.

    Africa needs Nuclear Power. It is developing rapidly. High available inexpensive power would transform the place. Kenya especially is becoming a 2nd world nation rather than a 3rd world nation. They are undergoing radical transformations and I am sure the Greens are afraid they will get Nuclear Power.

    I just wish the fuel for Pebble beds was not taking so long to develop here in the USA. I also wish that more would follow Rod’s lead and use Nitrogen rather than Helium as the working gas.

    1. @David

      The good news is that the fuel development continues to move forward on approximately the same schedule that the DOE provided to me in about 2007. It will be ready to support high temperature reactors by about 2021.

      There are at least three existing projects planning to use the same TRISO fuel particles – the NGNP, X-Energy, and an effort that uses molten salt coolant flowing through a high temperature pebble bed (that one is an effort led by Per Peterson at UC Berkeley.)

      When fuel is available, I might still have time remaining before retirement to restart Adams Engines.

  10. It’s easy to understand what has happened.

    SMRs have been pushed aside by products like the 60% efficient 750 mW(e) GE FE60 FlexEfficiency 60 combined cycle power plant. Very environmentally clean, dual natural gas turbines with heat recovery boilers driving a steam turbine, it can load follow a grid full of wind turbines.

    As you know, I’m pro-nuke, but that’s what’s going on in the US electricity market.

    Check it out.

    Skyscrubber.com

    1. @Jim Holm

      The GE FE60 would be perfect if it used an emission-free, long lived heat source–say in the form of a high temperature pebble bed reactor–instead of burning a valuable raw material like natural gas. 🙂

  11. What happened to the Toshiba efforts. It seemed they were ahead of the pack with their neutron reflector concept back around 2007. Was that all press releases or what?

    1. @John T Tucker

      The Toshiba corporation has been experiencing some difficult times and has had to set priorities. I have no knowledge of their inside decision making processes, but I assume they pulled back on the 4S to free up resources to invest more in projects like establishing a global AP1000 supply chain and successfully completing the 8+ large reactors they have under construction.

      1. I read some about their SMR early on as they had planed to try to test in in Alaska and some press came out on it when I was living up there. I really liked it from my very limited knowledge of design. It seemed way ahead of its time. If the business environment is the majority of why its too bad someone else didn’t take it up back where they left off.

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