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TOWNHALL DEBATE: ARE CONVENTIONAL REACTORS AND SMALL MODULAR REACTORS RIVALS?

“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?

 

 

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15 Responses to “TOWNHALL DEBATE: ARE CONVENTIONAL REACTORS AND SMALL MODULAR REACTORS RIVALS?”

  1. JD Says:

    Simply put, the NRC has decided it must prioritize. It is currently working on design certifications for AP-1000 amendment, EPR, ESBWR, US-APWR.

    The NRC has chosen to prioritize based on whether the reactor has someone wanting to build it. COLs have been submitted for reactors based on the above four designs.

    Small reactor proposals are still proposals. They need to progress far enough along for utilities to want to build them. Once SMR-designers can show real customer interest, the NRC will be far more likely to devote resources to reviewing the designs.

  2. JD Says:

    Simply put, the NRC has decided it must prioritize. It is currently working on design certifications for AP-1000 amendment, EPR, ESBWR, US-APWR.

    The NRC has chosen to prioritize based on whether the reactor has someone wanting to build it. COLs have been submitted for reactors based on the above four designs.

    Small reactor proposals are still proposals. They need to progress far enough along for utilities to want to build them. Once SMR-designers can show real customer interest, the NRC will be far more likely to devote resources to reviewing the designs.

  3. JD Says:

    Simply put, the NRC has decided it must prioritize. It is currently working on design certifications for AP-1000 amendment, EPR, ESBWR, US-APWR.

    The NRC has chosen to prioritize based on whether the reactor has someone wanting to build it. COLs have been submitted for reactors based on the above four designs.

    Small reactor proposals are still proposals. They need to progress far enough along for utilities to want to build them. Once SMR-designers can show real customer interest, the NRC will be far more likely to devote resources to reviewing the designs.

  4. Renaissancer Says:

    Small reactors shouldn’t be a distraction but they are in practice. And they shouldn’t be pitted against each other in marketing, political and licensing space, but they are increasingly so. We’re vertical not horizontal thinkers and hopefully corrective action and surfacing of these issues can assuage this turn of events. There is plenty of room under the tent for both

  5. Renaissancer Says:

    Small reactors shouldn’t be a distraction but they are in practice. And they shouldn’t be pitted against each other in marketing, political and licensing space, but they are increasingly so. We’re vertical not horizontal thinkers and hopefully corrective action and surfacing of these issues can assuage this turn of events. There is plenty of room under the tent for both

  6. Renaissancer Says:

    Small reactors shouldn’t be a distraction but they are in practice. And they shouldn’t be pitted against each other in marketing, political and licensing space, but they are increasingly so. We’re vertical not horizontal thinkers and hopefully corrective action and surfacing of these issues can assuage this turn of events. There is plenty of room under the tent for both

  7. Monday Morning QB Says:

    With regard to #1’s (JD) comment regarding NRC priorities, I can understanding their triaging to some extent Safety issues first. Operating issues second. Technology with customers third. Technology without customers: go to the end of the line. The question is why is this a zero sum game, particularly when they’re charging $260/hour for their time? It seems that some kind of imagination, creativity and forward thinking is in order. Perhaps a licensing skunk works division to facilitate the U.S. in bringing new products to the market in concert with the vaunted “gold standard.”

  8. Monday Morning QB Says:

    With regard to #1’s (JD) comment regarding NRC priorities, I can understanding their triaging to some extent Safety issues first. Operating issues second. Technology with customers third. Technology without customers: go to the end of the line. The question is why is this a zero sum game, particularly when they’re charging $260/hour for their time? It seems that some kind of imagination, creativity and forward thinking is in order. Perhaps a licensing skunk works division to facilitate the U.S. in bringing new products to the market in concert with the vaunted “gold standard.”

  9. Monday Morning QB Says:

    With regard to #1’s (JD) comment regarding NRC priorities, I can understanding their triaging to some extent Safety issues first. Operating issues second. Technology with customers third. Technology without customers: go to the end of the line. The question is why is this a zero sum game, particularly when they’re charging $260/hour for their time? It seems that some kind of imagination, creativity and forward thinking is in order. Perhaps a licensing skunk works division to facilitate the U.S. in bringing new products to the market in concert with the vaunted “gold standard.”

  10. James P. Holm, P.E., (Retired) Says:

    There are many desirable foreign products of all sizes and both speeds emerging.

    What happens when a breakthrough reactor that is fully accepted by some other country’s equivalent to the NRC shows up on our doorstep?

    Is reciprocity going to be how the United States reconciles its present imagined position as the top dog who will always call the shots with the current reality not even running with the pack?

    SMRs are headed into a new, very open market, but a carbon tax could make fast Coal Yard Nukes more interesting than any large reactor.

  11. James P. Holm, P.E., (Retired) Says:

    There are many desirable foreign products of all sizes and both speeds emerging.

    What happens when a breakthrough reactor that is fully accepted by some other country’s equivalent to the NRC shows up on our doorstep?

    Is reciprocity going to be how the United States reconciles its present imagined position as the top dog who will always call the shots with the current reality not even running with the pack?

    SMRs are headed into a new, very open market, but a carbon tax could make fast Coal Yard Nukes more interesting than any large reactor.

  12. James P. Holm, P.E., (Retired) Says:

    There are many desirable foreign products of all sizes and both speeds emerging.

    What happens when a breakthrough reactor that is fully accepted by some other country’s equivalent to the NRC shows up on our doorstep?

    Is reciprocity going to be how the United States reconciles its present imagined position as the top dog who will always call the shots with the current reality not even running with the pack?

    SMRs are headed into a new, very open market, but a carbon tax could make fast Coal Yard Nukes more interesting than any large reactor.

  13. David Says:

    Small Reactors are a proposal because the NRC has a catch 22 situation. A SMR company either cannot or has a difficult time selling to a customer who wants an NRC approval for the design BEFORE buying but the company cannot get an approval before having a customer. But the customer wants NRC! But the company can’t get NRC until they have a customer… and round and round we go.

    We need some major restructuring at NRC if after 60 years of experience and in a world of high speed computers and databases it takes 5 years to approve a design.

  14. David Says:

    Small Reactors are a proposal because the NRC has a catch 22 situation. A SMR company either cannot or has a difficult time selling to a customer who wants an NRC approval for the design BEFORE buying but the company cannot get an approval before having a customer. But the customer wants NRC! But the company can’t get NRC until they have a customer… and round and round we go.

    We need some major restructuring at NRC if after 60 years of experience and in a world of high speed computers and databases it takes 5 years to approve a design.

  15. David Says:

    Small Reactors are a proposal because the NRC has a catch 22 situation. A SMR company either cannot or has a difficult time selling to a customer who wants an NRC approval for the design BEFORE buying but the company cannot get an approval before having a customer. But the customer wants NRC! But the company can’t get NRC until they have a customer… and round and round we go.

    We need some major restructuring at NRC if after 60 years of experience and in a world of high speed computers and databases it takes 5 years to approve a design.