Small Reactors & a Nuclear Vacation

Download the mp3 File Here Listen online here I am about to head out on a little adventure that I’ll tell you more about in a few minutes.  My bags are packed and I need to be out the door in 55 minutes. We may be seeing the early beginnings of a fundamental shift in the commercial nuclear industry away from the one-size-fits-all approach where bigger is better.  In the last few weeks there have been some interesting developments associated with small reactors and at the same time more large reactor projects are being put on hold. About two weeks ago I told you about the announcement by B&W that they have designed a small modular reactor called the mPower reactor that will be factory built and shipped by rail to assembly sites.  There are several other companies and partnerships developing a variety of small reactor designs: the Chinese and South Africans are working on Pebble Bed Modular Reactors; GE Hitachi is working on the Prism reactor, and start-ups Hyperion and NuScale have their own small reactor designs well underway.  Even Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates is getting into the action; his investment company Intellectual Ventures is working on the “Traveling Wave” reactor. Apparently the NRC has acknowledged the need; they have requested public comment on whether or not the government should change the licensing fee structure for small reactors.  Under the present fee structure it can cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars to get a new design through the licensing process for a single new reactor.  That high fee is a huge impediment to innovation and new designs.  You can read my letter to the NRC here. To my second point, two or three weeks ago the US Dept of Energy announced which companies will get loan guarantees for the first wave of new reactors under the 2005 Energy Policy Act.  The companies are NRG Energy, SCANA, Southern Company, and UniStar Nuclear Energy (a partnership between Constellation and Areva).  Those reactor construction projects are moving ahead.  In fact, a friend at Southern Company told me they will be “moving dirt” this month at the site of the new Vogtle reactors in Georgia.  At the same time, several other North American projects have been put on hold including Exelon’s Victoria project in Texas, AmerenUE’s second unit at Callaway, and Ontario announced they are curtailing their new nuclear plans for now. With the current vintage of large reactor offerings, the high initial capital cost poses a significant challenge for even very large companies.  Small reactors on he other hand will carry a much lower price tag.  This is one reason...

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