Small Reactors May Reduce Combat Casualties

This Week in Nuclear #79 – MP3 File A Special note from John Wheeler: Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States – the day we stop to reflect about the men and women of our armed forces, to acknowledge their many sacrifices, and to thank them for their service to our country. The day holds special significance for me personally because of the many, many members of my family and close friends who are currently serving in the military or who have served in the past. I have close family members who have served during every armed conflict since World War II, and probably earlier ones too if I knew that history. So to the veterans in my family; Mark, Elizabeth, Jake, and Bill, if you happen to listen to this show – this is a shout out to you and to all of your fellow soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, coast guardsmen, and merchant mariners – THANK YOU for your service. The world is a safer place because of your hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. And to my father Johnny and step-father Charlie who are no longer with us, you’re in my thoughts today. Because it’s Veteran’s Day, I thought it fitting for this show to focus on nuclear energy as it relates to potential uses in the military. At the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference in October I had the pleasure to meet Col. Paul Roege from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.   He spoke about the military’s rising use of energy in combat and the problems this energy intensity creates for soldiers tasked with protecting the our supply chains. By using a more dense energy source the military can reduce the amount of material they need to transport, and that will in turn save lives, lots of lives!  This is why the military is considering small mobile reactors. A late addition:  Kirk Sorensen sent me a copy of Col. Roege’s presentation, so I’ve added it...

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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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Small Reactor Licensing – A Letter to the NRC

The NRC is considering a change to their fee structure for small reactors, and invited public comment.  Here is a copy of the letter I sent. Attention: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff Subject:  Comments on the Proposed Changes to Licensing Fees for Small Reactors To Whom It May Concern: I graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a Bachelors Degree in Marine Engineering with a concentration in Nuclear Engineering.  I have more than 20 years of experience operating nuclear reactors for the US Navy and in the commercial power industry.  I was Engineering Office of the Watch and Plant Engineer qualified at the S3G nuclear prototype, and I have held Senior Reactor Operator Licenses at the Turkey Point and Indian Point nuclear plants.  Having operated both small and large reactors, I can speak from personal experience that small reactors can be designed, built, and operated with equal certainty and safety as large power reactors.  In fact, small reactors have many advantages over large reactors that can be used to increase safety margins if the designer so chooses. Examples include natural circulation, air-cooled decay heat removal, and enhanced security features.  From my informed point of view there is no technical basis for concern that small reactors pose excessive risk to public health and safety. The USA desperately needs new clean, cost-effective, carbon-free energy sources to power our economy and replace our aging energy infrastructure.  Because of the extraordinarily high cost and intermittent operation, renewable sources can not accomplish this task alone.  We need small nuclear reactors to provide industry and investors with a new lower cost, scalable option for adding nuclear generating capacity to our nation’s power grid.  In addition, small reactors could provide process heat in a number of applications in which large reactors are not practical.  With that in mind, I support restructuring licensing fees to significantly reduce or eliminate the cost for small reactors for five reasons: Licensing fees are so high that they are an impediment to investment and innovation. The current fee structure is unfairly biased towards multi-billion dollar nuclear plants with huge power outputs. The current fee structure is biased against nuclear energy in general.  For example, designers and manufacturers of solar, wind, and renewable power plants are not required to pay such high licensing fees nor do they reimburse the government for costs associated with routine regulation and oversight. Nuclear energy has become a critical part of our national economy and should receive equal treatment in our regulatory framework.  Other industries such as the airline industry, the food industry, and the automobile industry are not subject to the same fees and are not...

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