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15 Comments

  1. Do we have a regulatory approach that would fit an industry based on selling many smaller reactors like the B&W or Hyperion? There has been discussion on an updated approach to small reactor certification and licensing where do things now stand?
    Regulations seem to lag the technology instead of lead it. A one size fits all approach to regulation would continue to favor construction of large plants.

  2. There are additional advantages of smaller reactors that the article does not mention.
    – One advantage is the fact that the reactor could be transported off site again if the project doesn’t pan out. Some of the nuclear projects in the 1980s went bust because demand growth didn’t turn out as expected. With smaller reactors, the utility could always say ‘Oh well’ and ship it elsewhere where demand is strong.
    – Another advantage is the possibility for combined heat and power, which Amory Lovins has been promoting for so long. A large reactor generates a lot of waste heat on one spot, often too much to be useful at that site.

  3. There is no regulatory advantage to smaller reactors because smaller reactors are not small reactors. It will take the same amount of time to get a permit. Cutting construction time in halve to get one tenth the output is not an advantage either.

  4. Classic. I’m a nuclear engineer at a First Energy site, and I first heard about this by Rod’s site. 😛

    Very cool stuff though. I hope it goes well.

  5. Kit, you realize that a single site could house more than 1 of these units, right? There are plenty of multi-unit fossil sites. Kingston Fossil Plant (site of the ash spill) is a 9 unit facility.

    1. Sure, if a utility needed a small power plant they would build a fossil plant or biomass plant. You do realize there is huge economy of scale for large nukes. There are lots of reason why a utility would not build a large nuke but none of them are good reasons for building a small nuke.

      Oh the other hand, if utility is thinking about building a large coal plant I can think of lots of good reason why a big nuke plant might be a better choice.

      1. Kit…once again, you demonstrate your special distaste for small nuclear reactors. This is almost a signature issue for you, is it not? Fast…and small…scary how fast and small they are. Almost like a fish that’s small enough and agile enough to slip through the teeth of the shark, making it immune to being eaten. Even if the shark manages to eat one, a thousand more remain.

        Large is already extraordinarily safe. But by operation of natural law, small can be far, far safer than large already is – it can be walk-away safe. Large is already extraordinarily efficient. But small can replicate that same efficiency – even do better than it – by matching power and heat output to the application. Large is a great value for the price – assuming that the antis don’t shut it down. Small is even a better value – it’s a fixed price, fuel included, and if the antis shut it down, it just goes where the antis aren’t.

        Plus, without those gigantic concrete domes – without radiation areas – it isn’t nearly as scary. Baby-steps with super-safe, simple, small reactors – certified design – site permit for a reactor park – plop ’em down, fire’em up – that get them out there into circulation – so that people can come along and use them – learn them – design with them – apply them to projects…Large is great…but small is beautiful. Large demonstrates the promise of the Atomic Age, but the fulfillment will only truly come when both large and small reactors are out there. Large reactors for large areas and constant loads, small reactors for small, local loads, even for process heating and cooling.

        Regulations are human constraints. If a reactor safe enough to operate nearly anywhere can be approved, that reactor can be ruggedized and mass-produced, if the regulations can be changed upon demonstration of inherent safety, then there will not just be a nuclear Renaissance. There will be a true second Nuclear Age.

  6. @Dave – shucks, you took away all of my best responses.

    @Kit P – I will be sure to pass your opinions on during today’s breakout session on small nuclear power plants during Platts Nuclear Energy 2010 or at Monday’s NEI sponsored workshop on small nuclear power plants. When I see them, I will tell the people at B&W, TVA, First Energy, Oglthorpe, and a few others that have not yet come out publicly that they are wasting their time, tell the capital investors in NuScale that they are wasting their money, and tell John (Grizz) Deal and Deborah Blackwell from Hyperion that they are hopeless dreamers. I will also go back to the NRC and tell them I apologize for wasting their time during the session held in October and for making them read the responses that I provided when they put out a public call for suggested changes to licensing fees associated with regulating reactors in light of the growing interest in smaller plants. (NOT!)

  7. I took the info from the “Small Reactors Generate Big Hopes” article in the WSJ and did a few elementary calculations.

    1. “Small reactors are expected to cost about $5,000 per kilowatt of capacity”

    2. “Large reactors cost $5 billion to $10 billion for reactors that would range from 1,100 to 1,700 megawatts of generating capacity”.

    I took $10 billion andpretended I could build a 1700 Mw unit with it. I divided $10 billion by 1,700 Mw = $5882 per kilowatt of capacity.

    So, given the info in the article, it is a no brainer to go small, as the cost per Kw of capacity is lower, the construction time is shorter, and the unit size is smaller which means flexible response to demand increase. Have I got this right?

    What I would be more interested in would be the estimated cost per kw/hr produced until the plant is paid off, then the estimated cost per kw/hr produced at that point of both types of plant, i.e. big and small. Then, taking the expected lifetime of each type into account, what would be the cost per kwhr, excluding fuel cost, over the entire lifetime, and then, what would the cost be per kwhr over the entire life under various scenarios of fuel cost. That difference in construction time would have a major influence on the short term per kw/hr cost, as I understand things, because a major cost of the big reactors has been financing charges. All the estimates I have seen for cost of electricity from new reactors, I believe, has loaded all financing charges onto the first 20 years or so, and pretended the plant would not exist after that time.

    1. @Guest – please understand that the detailed information that you seek would be considered to be quite proprietary. In every large project that I know of, especially those where there is serious competition for sales, cost information is held pretty close to the vest. However, that general number of $5,000/kwe is quite useful. On the other hand, there are charges that are not included in that cost that currently favor larger unit sizes, but there are a lot of people working to change those rules.

      As an aside – and more details to follow – I heard Paul Lorenzini of NuScale announce to a large crowd of nuclear industry professionals today that his company has some very solid cost estimates from qualified vendors that have shown that a 12 pack of their 45 MWe modules built on a single site to produce a plant with a 540 MWe capacity would cost $4,000 per kwe if build under a single contract and $4,400 if built with six initial modules on a site with infrastructure to grow to 12 modules.

      We are living in exciting times.

  8. Neither Mpower or NuScale is ready to submit to the NRC. Until the design is mature enough the vendors are not going to have a decent estimate of cost/price. They really won’t have a good idea until after the licensing and FOAK.

    Bill

  9. I’m wondering what could be done to light a fire under the NRC so they won’t be the delay I keep hearing about. Does Chu have anything to say about increasing funding to the NRC?

  10. David,
    The NRC is not in the business of helping construction. They are a government regulator, charged with protecting health and safety of the public. Theirs is not the charter to promote nuclear construction or nuclear power. They have their hands full reviewing the large reactor designs that are currently on the drawing board – on one hand, reviewing the designs the vendors have submitted, on the other, reviewing the applications for construction and licensing applications that are in development. Increasing funding to the NRC would help (and I’m sure someone will correct if my information is out of date) but my understanding is that the NRC is funded by the regulated utilities – at least that was part of their initial concept. So ‘increasing funding’ to the NRC would be an indirect increase to the ratepayers for electric bills.

    Kit,
    Modular construction has serious advantages, if the regulatory structure supports it. Halfway through the old, traditional construction model, a utility has marketable electricity, which can begin paying down the construction loans on the other modules still underway. There is a saving on interest for loans, and the appeal of “not all your eggs in one huge basket” or the risk of a major setback delaying all the benefits of a costly investment. Plus, you can more effectively deploy your construction crew. In fact, the bulk of the ‘construction crew’ belongs to the vendor, at the vendor’s construction site. Instead of a traveling crew, the vendor can invest in permament, year-round employees and continue to reap the rewards of their growing experience and local family roots. Then ship the modules to the site for assembly and testing.

    Rasmus,
    Great points! Even if construction is abandoned, the asset isn’t worthless – it would retain a high resale value, lowering the risk of the initial commitment. A utility could pass their module along to the next customer, who gets a discount. I find your reference to Amory Lovins amusing, though logically sound. Too bad Amory doesn’t endorse the use of his own logic.

    1. @David –

      The NRC is not in the business of helping construction. They are a government regulator, charged with protecting health and safety of the public. Theirs is not the charter to promote nuclear construction or nuclear power.

      I agree that the NRC is not supposed to “promote” nuclear power in the sense that they should not be advertising or marketing it. However, the stated mission of the NRC is as follows:

      “License and regulate the Nation

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