Nuclear power is the energy source that we should be looking at to power our homes and our electric vehicles. I’ve blogged about this before, and highly recommend you watch the documentary, Pandoras Promise. I’ve written about Thorium nuclear reactors as a technology that is coming back into favor. Other countries have successfully implemented a nuclear energy grid with smaller and safer reactors and technology has greatly improved the efficiency of nuclear fuel and reduced the quantity and severity of the spent fuel. Solar and wind are sexy and the governments of the world have dumped a bunch of money into subsidies to make the market happen but in the end, manipulated markets don’t lend to good outcomes. (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE,)
If we want energy independence at a reasonable price nothing is better than modern nuclear power. Let’s look at the regulator and permitting process to get the time frame from opening a new nuclear plant down from 20 years to under 5. I’m sure the ‘not in my backyard’ folks will come out in droves, just like they do for copper mines. Never mind there are 64 pounds of copper in a Prius, let them mine in some other third world county….not in our backyard.
As the U.S. moves away from fossil fuels with renewable energy like wind and solar taking its place, one cleaner alternative has been largely ignored: nuclear power. Over the last 20 years, only one new nuclear plant has finished construction in the United States.
There are many different reasons for this, but one of the biggest by far is that nuclear reactors are extremely expensive and complicated to build. The single power plant constructed in 2016, Watts Bar 2, began construction in 1973 and ultimately cost $4.7 billion, including a full $2 billion in budget overruns. Nuclear isn’t exactly the best choice when looking for cheap, flexible energy solutions.
But all that might be about to change, thanks to a new reactor design that’s smaller, cheaper and easier to build. The first so-called small modular reactor (SMR) design has just passed a Phase I review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so construction on the reactor can now go ahead. With luck, that reactor will be completed in less than a decade.
Small modular reactors are dramatically different from standard nuclear reactors with their iconic cooling towers. These reactors are designed so that all of their components are built in a central factory and assembled on-site, which makes them much cheaper and faster to construct. They’re also much smaller, making them an ideal fit for rural and suburban communities that don’t need a gigawatt or more of power.
The specific reactor approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is built by NuScale, an Oregon-based energy company that has been working on its design for over a decade. The reactor design is only about 65 feet long and generates 50 megawatts of power, and comes with enough fuel to last an entire year. The reactor can be built and fueled in a factory, shipped on a train or truck, and shipped back to be refueled.
The first such reactor is scheduled to be built in Idaho sometime in the mid-2020s, and will serve as a demonstration of the tech’s capabilities. If everything goes well, we could see small reactors taking the place of fossil fuel plants very soon.