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Posts Tagged ‘Small Modular Reactors’


Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 20, 2011

France has taken the idea of “moving industry offshore” and given it a new twist – plant small nuclear reactors in the seabed and pump the electricity back on land. Called “Flexblue,” the underwater system could provide a large portion of the world’s energy.
“The cylinder with the power plant inside would be lowered to the seabed at a depth of 60 meters (196 feet) to 100 meters, at a site between five and 15 kilometers from the coast,” Patrick Boissier, CEO of the French construction company, DCNS, tells Platts. “Undersea cables would bring the electricity to customers on shore.”  Boissier notes that three-quarters of the world’s population lives within 80 km of the sea.
DCNS, which does construction for the French Navy, will join Areva, EDF and the CEA research and development organization in exploring the idea, according to an announcement made in Paris yesterday. “The technical, economic and market feasibility study will be conducted over the next two years by 100-150 people from DCNS and the nuclear organizations, after which a decision could be made to build a prototype,” says Platts. “Boissier said a submerged power plant, unlike a floating one, would not be vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods, and would be far less vulnerable to voluntary attack.”  It would also have an unlimited source of coolant and would create a minimal environmental footprint. Areva already builds 100-MW small reactors for French submarines and aircraft carriers and said it would be fairly easy to adapt Flexblue from this prototype.
The French project should serve as a warning to American political officials, who also have big dreams about small reactors but are reluctant to streamline regulatory procedures that now make such initiatives a decade-long ordeal. The French are not the only ones who are going to be building small reactors. The rest of the world knows the technology too.

Read more about it at Platt’s



Friday, December 10th, 2010

December 10, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors


In a measure of the growing enthusiasm for downsized nuclear, small modular reactors have been listed as Idea #18 on Time’s “20 Top Green Tech Ideas” of 2010.

“[T]here’s still a reluctance to build nuclear plants ­ no new one has been constructed in the U.S. in decades ­ and it goes beyond environmental concerns,” says Time, parroting standard anti-nuclear rhetoric. “Nuclear power plants are incredibly expensive investments, and right now few utilities would take on the financial risk of building one, or get banks to lend them the necessary capital, even with additional government aid. But what if you could shrink the size of a nuclear plant? That’s what companies like NuScale Power and Babcock & Wilcox are trying to do. By building a modular plant that might be a quarter the size of a the current multi-gigawatt operations, it’s possible to reduce the capital expenditures needed to start construction and cut the risk that would be associated with an accident. We may at last be approaching a time that nuclear goes nimble.”

Next to some of the other ideas on Time’s Top 20, SMRs’ credentials seem impressive. The 75-200 MW units being developed by Babcock & Wilcox, NuScale and Hyperion can run a small town of about 20,000 with a basement-sized unit. By contrast, the Solar Tower (idea #7) – which has been tried since the 1980s – can generate 10 MW on five square miles when the sun shines. A new rooftop windmill manufactured by Windtronics (Idea #13) can generate “nearly 3000 KWh a year with decent winds” – about enough electricity to run your VCR.

Still, it’s great to find nuclear in such rarified company.

Read more at Time Magazine


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

December 1, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors


Dr. Paul Farrell is president and CEO of Radix Power and Energy Corporation, a Long Island start-up that is marketing a small, modular reactor originally designed for the military that can be scaled down as low as 500 kilowatts. A physicist with more than 40 years experience in research and commercialization of nuclear and particle beam technology, he holds three patents in the field of accelerator design. In 2010, Dr. Farrell was inducted into the Long Island Tech Hall of Fame. In addition to his role with Radix, he also serves as President of Brookhaven Technology Group, Inc., an advanced technology research and development company, which he founded in 1987. We asked him about Radix’s small reactor.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  What is the Radix reactor and how does it operate?
DR. FARRELL:  The Radix design, which we call DEER (Deployable Electric Energy Reactor), is a standard PWR type reactor with the pressurizer and steam generator located external to the core. We chose this design to meet the requirement that the system should be transportable using standard vehicles. The reactor pressure vessel is shielded with a 20 cm thick tungsten shield to protect against gamma radiation so that it can be transported away from the site after use. It is a sealed unit that can be refueled at a central location. The DEER reactor fuel is uranium zirconium hydride, the same type of fuel that is used in TRIGA research reactors. This fuel is chosen for its proven safety properties. It has a high thermal conductivity, high negative temperature coefficient and very fast thermal response. The power level of the DEER is designed to be variable over a 3-to-1 dynamic range.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  What led to the invention of the DEER? 
DR. FARRELL:  It was originally developed in a U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research project in response to a solicitation for bids on a deployable energy systems for use at Forward Operating Bases. We studied several alternatives and the only one that made sense at the power levels requested was a nuclear-based system. It is a very controversial approach because nuclear power has its difficulties, but the political hazard of total reliance on fossil fuel and the cost in lives and dollars of running long logistical resupply lines through hostile territories made it worth considering.
The DEER reactor is the brainchild of Dr. James Powell, who was the Head of The Reactor Systems Division of the Department of Nuclear Energy at Brookhaven National Laboratory before he retired from there in 1995. This project got enthusiastic support from some individuals at BNL, although there was no formal connection with the Lab. As we develop the detailed final design, however, we will open up formal collaboration with the Lab.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  What are some of the uses you imagine for your reactor?
DR. FARRELL:  Right now we are focused on electricity applications for specific off-grid applications. We’re looking at applications in remote areas in Northern Canada, Alaska, and of course, United States military bases and forward operating bases abroad.  
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  Have any prospective customers expressed interest to this point?
DR. FARRELL:  Yes. Without that interest, we would not have gone to the time and expense of trying to commercialize what was initially a research project.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  Where do you stand now on a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?  Do you have a time schedule?
DR. FARRELL:  At this time, we are paying close attention to the activities of the NRC and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission with regard to how they will respond to changes they need to address with regard to SMRs.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  Do you think the NRC is going to be able to pay enough attention to applications from small companies like Radix?  Will applications from other companies with small reactors help?
DR. FARRELL:  There is talk that NRC will find a way to issue a Manufacturing License that would enable a particular reactor design to be factory built according to a set plan instead of each reactor having to undergo its own individual licensing process. This makes good sense because it would allow the market to expand without sacrifice of safety. I am optimistic that by the time Radix is ready to approach the NRC, these adjustments will be worked out.
In regard to NRC applications from other companies, it’s always expensive and hard to be first in a new market. The efforts to obtain licenses by mPower and NuScale are forcing the NRC to address issues and rebalance certain long-standing rules to take into account the different scale of the small reactors. I think the changes made by NRC that are generic to SMRs will be very helpful to Radix and other companies seeking license for SMRs.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  How much do you expect to have to spend on a licensing application?  Where does that money come from?  Are you looking for investors?
DR. FARRELL:  Radix does not have a budget yet for the cost to get an NRC license. I expect our first unit will be configured to operate in the range of 1 to 10 MWe. If we use the often quoted selling price range of $6000 to $8000 per kW, the price of the system would be $6 million to $80 million, depending on the final operating specification of the complete system. I have been told the price to license a design will be $50 million and the annual licensing fees another $4.7 million. If that is true, we’ll be stopped dead in our tracks. We’re hoping a solution will be found so that once a standard design is licensed, it won’t be necessary to pay the entire license fee each time a new project is implemented.
Radix is currently looking for investors to stand up the company and support the ongoing engineering, marketing and licensing efforts. We believe we have the customers and the technology to be the first SMR to the market at the lowest cost. If we accomplish this, markets will open globally.
NUCLEAR TOWHALL:  Several principals in small reactor companies have said they might have more luck at this point trying to market their reactors abroad. Hyperion has just joined a consortium of European companies, for instance, in exploring nuclear-powered ocean-going commercial vessels. Is that a possibility for you?
DR. FARRELL:  The need for energy solutions has no borders, but for now, Radix is focused on markets in North America. We’re familiar with the regulatory issues and other cultural aspects and most important, we have identified a customer base that has a dire need for the solution we’re providing.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  Does it worry you at all that nuclear technology seems to be progressing so rapidly in other countries while it’s stalled here at home? 
Yes, it is a worry for all technologies, not just nuclear. Everyone knows that the politics and the legal and financial climate in this country have produced total stagnation. Nuclear power, high-speed rail, medical health are all stalled here because there is no leadership, no longer any sense of national purpose. I am optimistic that our nation will soon gain a sense of reality and change things for the better. The nuclear power industry began in the U.S.A. The SMR market is global. We have a chance to regain a leading role in nuclear energy that would create jobs and exports. Other countries including China, Japan, Korea and Argentina have SMR designs and they are marketing them worldwide. We will either be players or we will be spectators. I think we will be players.
NUCLEAR TOWNHALL:  Thanks very much for your time.


Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Fred Hemmings is an unlikely champion of nuclear energy.  The World Surfing Champion of 1968, he won several other international competitions, earning a place in the Surfing and State of Hawaii Halls of Fame.  (That’s him in the photo on our front page.)  He also had a bent for business, winning the Top Ten Businessmen’s Award from the Honolulu Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1969.  Hemmings became a sports commentator on ABC “Wide World of Sports,” a founder of pro surfing and the producer of the world famous Triple Crown of Surfing competition. He has written several books and hosted a radio talk show.  In 1984 he entered politics, becoming a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and eventually a Republican floor leader. After ten years of being “cured of politics,” he took a breather, only to dive back in again in 2000, winning a seat in the State Senate, where he eventually became Senate Republican leader as well.  This year he finally retired from politics but continues to advocate on a few subjects, particularly small modular reactors.  At last month’s at Infocast Conference on SMR’s, Senator Hemmings distinguished himself when a representative from the Department of Energy, in speaking on SMRs, asserted, “No one is going to go around the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”  “I beg to differ,” responded Senator Hemmings.  “This country is run by the Congress, not the NRC.”


We asked him this week how he became such a passionate devotee of nuclear energy:


NTH:  What’s the basis of your enthusiasm about nuclear energy?  When did it start?  What got you into it?  


HEMMINGS: Hawaii is in dire straits with highest priced electricity and most dependence on fossil fuels. I believe SMRs, a newly developing technology, is THE solution. Hence my quest to restructure the NRC with laws that mandate expeditious, two-year licensing, adequate funding to get the job done, and allowance for recycling waste. This has to be done in Congress, hence my national effort. It is important to note that SMRs could liberate the nation from fossil fuels.



NTH:  As a state senator in Hawaii, you wouldn’t seem to have much opportunity to legislation with relation to nuclear power.  What are the possibilities of developing anything out there?


HEMMINGS:  I hope the military can lead the way in Pearl Harbor. We have the highest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. They are called nuclear submarines. They have a perfect safety record. My idea is to have the Navy develop nuclear energy ships that can be plugged into. “Energy ships” would have enough excess capacity to energize electric cars and desalinate water at military ports around the world…


NTH:  As a volcanic island, Hawaii has developed one of the world’s largest complexes of geothermal energy.  Somehow this always gets categorized as “solar energy.”  Is anyone out there aware that geothermal energy is actually the nuclear radioactive heat of the earth?


HEMMINGS: Hawaii ONLY generates 30 MW of electricity from geothermal despite the potential for at least 1000 MW. Back in the eighties I was a big advocate of geothermal on the Big Isle, which has active volcanoes. The entire initiative yielded to errant alleged “environmental organizations” (really more anti-capitalist than environmental), local activists and the “just say no” syndrome that is plaguing all the Islands. Geothermal is good but only viable on the Big Isle (Hawaii.)


NTH:  What’s the general reaction within the Hawaii State Legislature to nuclear?  Do you have a renewable mandate?  Did anyone try to include nuclear?  Are people talking about covering those islands with windmills?


HEMMINGS:  It is interesting to note that even the Federated Island states of Micronesia have adopted pro SMR legislation while, with few exceptions, leaders in Hawaii are mute and even afraid to broach the subject. Wind mills can be beneficial BUT…they along with solar do not provide firm capacity.  They are land- intensive and can only be placed in select areas. We are putting in wind farms at certain sites in Hawaii, which I support. Let me make it clear that wind and solar cannot be the comprehensive solution because they are not firm capacity and the cost of electricity is too high.


NTH:  In your experience, what’s the biggest obstacle to convincing people that nuclear holds the solution to our environmental problems?  Do you see any movement among those people who are concerned about global warming?


HEMMINGS: The obstacle is a “public relations” problem. The American people are very smart collectively IF they get all the factual information.  Proponents of SMRs  must join with enlightened environmentalists and all others advocates in promoting that SMRs are safe, have no carbon emissions, are most affordable, can liberate our country from dependency and can fuel electric cars, desalinization much more. Fossil fuels energized the industrial era in the last century. SMRs must be the fuel of the technological revolution of the 21st. century. The good news is there are an increasing number of respected environmentalists that are seeing the wisdom of nuclear energy.


NTH:  Do you have any concern about how the rest of the world seems to be pulling away from us on nuclear technology?  What will be the significance if we wake up in 20 years and find India, China and Russia have gone far beyond us on nuclear while we’re still playing with windmills?


HEMMINGS:  This is precisely why I as state legislator from a small state in the middle of the vast Pacific became a big proponent of SMRs and making them a national priority.


NTH:  Realistically, if small reactors become bogged down in licensing procedures and Russia, Korea and Japan are beating us once again in the world market, does there seem to be any reasonable way of speeding up procedures at the NRC?


HEMMINGS: BIG YES. Congress must pass legislation that would mandate the NRC to expedite licensing while providing enough funding to do so. The legislation must also encourage recycling as is so successfully done in France. We cannot allow the fourth branch of government, the recalcitrant bureaucracy, to maintain the status quo.


NTH:  On another subject, tell us your best surfing story.  Did you ever encounter one of those 30 story waves?


HEMMINGS:  Yes…I was a wild man surfer way before extreme sports. I was lucky to survive my youth.

(See attached photo of Hemmings as a young surfer.)



NTH:  Thanks very much for your time.


Friday, October 22nd, 2010

“Disruptive technology” was a phrase that kept coming up at Infocast’s Small Modular Reactors Conference in Washington, DC this week.

The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he showed that even the innovators of new technology can hurt themselves by introducing it if they are already well established in the old technology. Therefore, new technologies are usually developed by newcomers in the field.
The description would seem to fit the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance at this moment. The proposals for small reactors are coming mostly from upstart companies such as NuScale, Hyperion, Advanced Reactor Concepts, Radix, TerraPower and a reincarnated Babcock & Wilcox, which has dropped out of the full-scale field. Meanwhile, the established companies – AREVA, Westinghouse, General Electric and General Atomics – are “keeping up with the Jones” at best.
But there is a new element to the equation – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The limiting factor in any reactor development, old or new, in this country, at least, will be getting licensed by the NRC. The Commission’s time – which is subject to Congressional appropriations and dedicated to safety issues first – can be finite even at its pass-through rate to users of $260 hour.  And any effort spent on SMRs could logically be subtracted from time spent reviewing larger reactors. Thus, when Hyperion sat down with NRC officials earlier this month, the company was only adding to the Commission’s overload.

There won’t be any Apples or Netscapes upsetting the established order in the nuclear industry. Ultimately, along with securing customers, everything will depend on successfully navigating uncertain NRC regulatory regime waters over a five-year period at a minimum. In this department, established technologies will have an advantage, since, even more than major corporations, bureaucracies have trouble adjusting to innovation.
“I believe if the nuclear industry is going to succeed, we have to succeed as a whole,” said Gary Barbour, senior advisor for regulatory affairs at NuScale Power at the conference. In winning public acceptance, this is obviously true. But is there also a sibling rivalry?  Are big and small reactors partners or rivals?  Are small reactors and large reactors an either/or proposition for the industry or can the industry and the NRC multi-task?  Are small reactors an untimely distraction at a time when the Renaissance should be focused on consummating a spate of new large reactor deployments over this decade?




Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Small modular reactors – anything from 25 to 150 megawatts – have created tremendous excitement in the nuclear industry. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu has said they offer the best opportunity for America to regain the lead in technology internationally.

Yet building small modular reactors (SMRs) in this country will require threading them through the licensing and review process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the gigantic Washington Beltway bureaucracy that sits atop the American nuclear industry. So far, according to perspectives offered at a Washington SMR symposium this week, the NRC has responded at a glacial pace.

Can America become a center for international innovation again?  Or will homegrown SMR developers be forced to go abroad in order to bypass the logjam at the NRC – as some are already starting to contemplate?  That was the question discussed for three days at the Small Modular Reactor conference in Washington this week, sponsored by Infocast.

Overall, the mood of the conference was one of excitement at the opportunity that SMR technology represents. “We’ve reached our debt limit and we’re not going to be building any more large reactors for awhile,” said Jack A. Bailey, vice president for nuclear generation development at the Tennessee Valley Authority. “So small reactors are going to be important to us. For one thing it allows us to spread the wealth. Nuclear jobs pay $125,000 but it’s all concentrated in one community. Now we could distribute them throughout the region.”

David Mohre, executive director at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association, was equally enthusiastic. “SMR’s make a lot of sense to our members. Eighty percent of our generation is from coal and the EPA is about to come at them. They don’t have enough customers to absorb a large nuclear reactor but small ones would fit just fine.”

One entire panel dealt with the possibilities of introducing SMRs to remote populations or isolated industrial enterprises.

“I was up in Yellow Knife recently,’ said Jay Harris, of the Canadian Nuclear Society, referring to the remote capital of the Northwest Territories that now subsists on diamond mining. “I tell, you, if I had had some SMRs with me, I could have sold them off the back of the truck. Those people are desperate for energy sources.”

The ferment of innovation in the industry was often compared to Silicon Valley in the 1990s. “Every great era of innovation has produced a bubble,” said Matthew Nordan, of Venrock, the venture capital firm.  “We had a railroad bubble, we had a computer bubble, we had an Internet bubble. They all burst eventually but when they do there are a lot of good businesses left standing. Right now people in the SMR business are asking me, `How can we get one of those bubbles?’”

Companies have had their ups and downs. The “Traveling Wave” reactor, investigated by TerraPower, the Bill-Gates-funded firm, has not panned out as yet.  “They haven’t been able to achieve what they wanted,” said Irfan Ali, president of Advanced Reactor Concepts. The pebble bed reactor scalable down to small size, recently fizzled in South Africa. “”They never had a customer,” said Jeffrey Harper, manager of the SMR program at Westinghouse.

But there have been successes as well. Hyperion, whose 25-MW Power Module was born out of Los Alamos, recently signed a memorandum of understanding to build a prototype at the Savannah River Nuclear Fuel Site. “Savannah River was a big win for all of us,” said Deborah Deal-Blackwell, vice president of Hyperion. And Babcock & Wilcox has a similar MoU with the Tennessee Valley Authority for its 125-MW mPower SMR.

One question that emerged from the discussion was whether small reactors and conventional big reactors are rivals. “I believe if the nuclear industry is going to succeed, we have to succeed as a whole,” said Gary Barbour, senior advisor for regulatory affairs at NuScale Power, which has a 45-MW reactor developed at Oregon State. Most panelists agreed that overcoming public fear and opposition to nuclear was much more important and would benefit both.

Despite the excitement, there was a lingering sense that the nuclear industry is stagnating in this country and that all the action is shifting abroad. “There’s more excitement in emerging markets right now,” said Ali, of Advanced Reactor Concepts. “Nuclear is sexy right now in India and China. That isn’t happening here.”

“How are we going to compete with China if we don’t innovate in this country,” asked Dr. Robert Schleicher, project manager of General Atomics’ EM2, a 240-MW reactor that runs on spent fuel. “The tradition of the U.S. is innovation. New reactors are important to this.”

To some surprise, venture capitalists on the Wednesday panel seemed very enthusiastic about nuclear. “Most of our investments have been in biotech and nuclear seems much less risky to me than biotech,” said Richard Kreger, senior managing director at the Source Capital Group.

“Only one out of 100 drug properties ever make it through the FDA approval process. To me a nuclear reactor with a license is a much better risk.”

Yet it was the licensing issue that hung like a cloud over the three-day proceedings.

“The NRC is the gold standard,” said Ali, of Advanced Reactor Concepts, in a comment often repeated throughout the week. But the question remained whether the U.S. would get stuck on a decade-long quest for gold while the rest of the world moves ahead with silver and bronze.

 “The FDA is a `Yes, if’ organization,” said Nordan, of Venrock. “They try to help you through the process. The NRC is a `No, because’ agency. You get the feeling they’re not concerned whether you make it or not. The words `generating electricity’ do not appear in the NRC’s mission statement.”

Representatives from several SMR companies said they are already looking abroad as a way of risk-managing the NRC licensing process. “”We’re exploring licensing in Britain,” said Deal-Blackwell, of Hyperion. “We may be dealing with Canada before the U.S.,” said Paul Farrell, president of Radix Power and Energy, an outgrowth of Brookhaven National Laboratory. “There’s a big need for isolated power up there.”

Ifran Ali, of Advanced Reactor Concepts, complained that his company’s sodium-cooled SMR had been virtually eliminated from the competition because the NRC can only deal with light water reactors. “The regulatory process is making decisions," he said.  "Already we’ve been moved to the back of the line without having the chance to demonstrate our technology. These decisions should be made by the market, not the bureaucracy.”

 Perhaps the most dramatic confrontation of the conference came when William A. Macon, Jr., of the Department of Energy, tired of hearing criticisms of the government, pronounced, “Nobody is going to bypass the NRC.”

 “I disagree,” responded Hawaii State Senator Fred Hemmings, a big supporter of nuclear, who also sat on the panel. “If Congress decides the NRC is holding up progress, it should change the law. This country is run by Congress, not by the NRC. ”


Friday, July 16th, 2010

By William Tucker
Last April, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu sounded an optimistic note in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.  While the U.S. is challenged in the manufacturing of full-sized reactors market, he said, an opportunity was opening in small modular reactors in the range of 75 to 150 megawatts.

“Small modular reactors  . . have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival. . . . Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants . . .. If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.”

The article caused a flurry of excitement in the nuclear industry where a bevy of companies — ranging from established competitors Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), GE, Westinghouse and General Atomics to emerging companies such as NuScale and Hyperion — were advancing new SMR initiatives.  The government was becoming a proponent for serious nuclear energy innovation.  Legislation was introduced in the Congress to spur development and $40 million proposed in the President’s FY2011 budget request. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed suit projecting approval of a design as early as 2017.  TVA announced its interest in SMR deployment. Experienced manufacturers such as Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman were at the ready. And this week, Bechtel jumped on board the SMR express.  

Notwithstanding the U.S. awakening in this arena, the rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly.  Toshiba has a 10-MW “4S” (Super Safe, Small and Simple) reactor it offering to give to Galena, an isolated Alaskan village, as a demonstration.  Russia has a modular reactor it is floating into Siberian villages on barges.  Two weeks ago the Koreans announced they are entering the field as well.

Ironically we’ve been building “small modular reactors” for 50 years.  They go on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. The reason B&W has a technical domain in SMRs — and related U.S. manufacturers have expertise in this market — is because it already has a business supplying them to the Navy.

But at the current pace of NRC design and licensing approval, it may be the better part of a decade before anybody can get something out the door in the U.S.  By that time, agile Japanese and Korean competitors may have moved out front in the global market.

So is it realistic to think America can compete in this field international?  And if not, what can we do about it?