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Thu Aug 8, 2013, 08:14 PM

Critics of small modular reactors forecast financial risk

Source: Augusta Chronicle

A nonprofit nuclear group released a report Thursday saying that efforts to develop small modular reactors at Savannah River Site and other venues will require “tens of billions of dollars” in federal subsidies.

“SMRs are being promoted vigorously in the wake of the failure of the much-vaunted nuclear renaissance,” Arjun Makhijani, the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said in a statement. “But SMRs don’t actually reduce financial risk; they increase it, transferring it from the reactor purchaser to the manufacturing supply chain.”

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Makhijani’s report, “Light Water Designs of Small Modular Reactors: Facts and Analysis,” estimates that $90 billion in orders would be needed for mass production of the small units.

“A hundred reactors, each costing about $900 million, including construction costs – would amount to an order book of $90 billion, leaving aside the industry’s record of huge cost escalations,” he said. “Shifting from the present behemoths to smaller unit sizes is a financial risk shell game, not a reduction in risk.”

Read more: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/metro/2013-08-08/critics-small-modular-reactors-forecast-financial-risk

8 replies, 1491 views

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Arrow 8 replies Author Time Post
Reply Critics of small modular reactors forecast financial risk (Original post)
bananas Aug 2013 OP
bananas Aug 2013 #1
bananas Aug 2013 #2
bananas Aug 2013 #3
ConcernedCanuk Aug 2013 #4
Kolesar Aug 2013 #5
kentauros Aug 2013 #6
ConcernedCanuk Aug 2013 #7
kentauros Aug 2013 #8

Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Aug 8, 2013, 08:20 PM

1. Website for the report

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Aug 8, 2013, 08:23 PM

2. M.V. Ramana: "SMRs would likely increase proliferation risks."

From the press release at http://ieer.org/resource/nuclear-power/light-water-designs-of-small-modular-reactors-facts-and-analysis/

M.V. Ramana, Ph.D., Nuclear Futures Laboratory and Program on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, said:

“SMRs would likely increase proliferation risks. My colleagues at Princeton University and I analyzed the proliferation risks of SMRs of various kinds … and concluded that the proliferation risks would increase significantly unless specific design and safeguards steps were taken to mitigate them. Left unaddressed risk increases by about 45 percent compared to current light water reactors for an equivalent power capacity. This risk increase does not include the inspection problems attendant upon a larger geographic dispersal that may accompany small modular reactors. The safeguarding of the reactors and spent fuel would be a more difficult and complex task than with the large reactors of today.”

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Aug 8, 2013, 08:52 PM

3. SMRs will lose the economies of scale of large reactors.

From the press release:
SMRs will lose the economies of scale of large reactors. As the report notes: “Nuclear reactors are strongly sensitive to economies of scale: the cost per unit of capacity goes up as the size goes down. This is because the surface area per kilowatt of capacity, which dominates materials cost and much of the labor cost, goes up as reactor size is decreased. Similarly, the cost per kilowatt of secondary containment, as well as independent systems for control, instrumentation, and emergency management, increases as size decreases … For these reasons, the nuclear industry has historically built larger and larger reactors in an effort to benefit from economies of scale. The four designs would reduce the size of each reactor considerably: by a factor of five (Westinghouse) to a factor of 25 (NuScale) relative to the reactors now being built in Georgia and South Carolina. Such large size reductions imply significant increases in unit cost due to loss of economies of scale.” It is highly questionable whether mass manufacturing cost reduction can make up for the cost escalation caused by loss of economies of scale.


This is the basic problem - there's no such thing as a free lunch.

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Response to bananas (Original post)

Thu Aug 8, 2013, 09:25 PM

4. $90 billion - that would buy a lot of solar panels!

 

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And I've never heard of a solar panel blowing up . . .

Did I miss something?

CC

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Response to ConcernedCanuk (Reply #4)

Fri Aug 9, 2013, 07:21 AM

5. Mere subsidies for 25,000 MW of nukes or just buy 90,000 MW of photovoltaics

Assuming that their mininukes produce 250 MW each : 100 x 250MW/each
and that photovoltaic generation costs a dollar per watt: 90,000 MW

The nukes would still need fuel and would need ratepayers to pay off most of the cost of deployment.

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Response to ConcernedCanuk (Reply #4)

Fri Aug 9, 2013, 08:51 AM

6. Solar panels, no,

but the manufacturing of the silicon necessary to make those panels isn't entirely safe, clean, and/or stable.

MEMC has a plant here that makes a large portion of the silicon necessary (I've read there are only two manufacturers of granular silicon in the US) to make the panels. I've also worked briefly at the plant here, and they use furnaces operating at around 1200F each in that process (I lost about thirty pounds in the three weeks I worked there due to being around that heat; the furnaces aren't well-insulated.)

So, that's quite a bit of energy going into five furnaces to make the processed silicon necessary for solar panels. It's hardly carbon-neutral.

Personally, I would rather see the development and implementation of both Polywell Fusion and solar rectennas (they absorb larger portions of the spectrum and can be tuned to specific wavelengths, such as IR to work at night!)

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Response to kentauros (Reply #6)

Fri Aug 9, 2013, 10:51 AM

7. We have to deal with what is available.

 

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Once the solar panels are made, their use to create power is certainly much safer than nuclear.

Nuclear plants are one huge time-bomb - ask Japan or the old USSR about that one, remember Three Mile Island?

And there are millions of tons of nuclear waste that continue to be a hazard for the planet.

Hydroelectricity is probably the cleanest available, but the environment takes a toll there also,

as areas of wildlife and even towns are consumed by the change in the flow of whatever river gets dammed/diverted.

When you get right down to it, almost NOTHING we manufacture is entirely safe, clean, and/or stable.

So that is not a valid argument against solar IMO.

CC

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Response to ConcernedCanuk (Reply #7)

Fri Aug 9, 2013, 12:44 PM

8. I'm not arguing against solar.

Only adding that while the panels can't blow up, the manufacturing process can.

And Fusion isn't fission, the latter of which comprises the entirety of nuclear. Polywell fusion also isn't the same as any of the other types in that there's no boiling of water to make steam. It's an electrostatic process. That is, the fusion is converted directly to electricity. That makes it incredibly efficient, even higher than solar. The fuel proposed is a combination of boron and tritium. As I recall the process of this, the boron ends up in the fusion process longer than merely being "split". I don't understand the physics in order to explain how that works, only that it does work.

I'd love to see all alternatives to burned fuels used, though Polywell fusion offers a higher concentration of energy (fuel) in a smaller package, with no waste (other than the creation of helium), and no fears of explosion or contamination. That's probably why the Navy is putting more funding into developing it. I'm sure they'd like to get rid of their fission reactors, too.

However, I would truly love to see the solar-rectenna technology developed. Imagine getting your solar power at an 80% efficiency rating, and the current not stopping when the sun goes down!

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