The Tiny, Simple Nuclear Reactor That Could Change Energy
The Next Nuclear Plants Will Be Small, Svelte, and Safer
Daniel Oberhaus published an article in Wired called “The Next Nuclear Plants Will Be Small, Svelte, and Safer,” in which he illuminates the work done by an Oregon energy startup. NuScale Power, working on Oregon State University campus, developed a modular nuclear power reactor that is 65 feet tall x 9 feet. The NuScale Power Module’s (NPM) simplified and compacted design allows it to be constructed in a US factory, then shipped to a prepared site containing up to 12 reactors.
Amid the world moving toward energy sources that combat climate change, this could serve as the future of energy. The world needs clean energy and nuclear power is a consistent provider of that regardless of if the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. About two-thirds of the clean energy produced in the United States is produced by nuclear energy. Unfortunately, most US reactors are at the end of their licensing lifetime and only two are currently being constructed. Because building a power plant is such a long and expensive commitment, investors shy away from the energy of the future. However, small modular reactors offer a new and revitalized look to the nuclear reactor and the power plant. “About the size of two school buses stacked end to end, you could fit around 100 of them (NPMs) in the containment chamber of a large conventional reactor.”
By limiting the size, construction cost and length are reduced so that investors are more incentivized to support nuclear energy. The NPM’s size gives it a financial edge over conventional reactors and only forfeits 28% of the electrical capacity. With 12 on-site, producing 60MW, Nuclear Power Module sits can produce 720MW of energy. This is compared to the 1000MW (1GW) produced on a power plant. Although they forfeit a portion of capacity, the small size allows for a safer design. The reactor sits in a small underground pool that will diffuse heat produced on the rare occasion of a reactor leak. Unfortunately, the Nuclear Regulatory Committee has still been reviewing the design since 2016. If approved, NuScale can finally build the commercial reactor of the future.