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Mon Aug 19, 2013, 02:53 PM

Smaller, transportable nuclear reactor

The propaganda blitz is on by a sinking Nuclear Industry trying to salvage what they can from a nuclear "revival" that has fizzled and died. They pushed for access to public funds with falsehoods and distortions about the economic and safety performance of both their product and their renewable competition. Now that their lies have caught up with them, they are trying to shift away from what 10 years ago was unarguably the most economic approach to a different technology with a new set of lies.

Smaller, transportable nuclear reactor

Imagine a nuclear reactor the size of a school bus, built on an assembly line and delivered to operators on a flatbed truck.
This is General Atomics’ vision of a safer, more efficient fission machine that could go 30 years without refueling and reduce daunting startup and equipment costs that have plagued plants like the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
G.A., as it’s known in the business, believes it can deliver such a reactor and is jockeying to win some of the $452 million in development money being handed out by the U.S. Department of Energy....

Another similar article out today is here:
King: Nuclear power tries new reactor designs
You can build a car with three or four wheels, but mostly, you would want to do so with four for stability and marketplace acceptance. Basically, you need a wheel at each corner, after which you can do what you like. Flexibility comes in how you use the vehicle.
For nuclear power, the reverse of that truism applies. There are many, many ways of building a reactor and fueling it. But its purpose is singular: to make electricity. And making electricity is done in the time-honored way, using steam or gas to turn a turbine attached to a generator....

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2013/08/19/2924234/king-nuclear-power-tries-new-reactor.html#storylink=cpy

The failure of the current nuclear revival was accurately predicted by a number independent analysts. Among them the author of the report discussed in the press release below, Dr. Arjun Makhijani.


Reproduced in full with permission.
IEER REPORT: Small Modular Reactors a “Poor Bet” to Revive Failed Nuclear Renaissance in U.S.
$90 Billion in Initial Manufacturing Order Book Needed, Requiring Massive Involvement by the Chinese or Taxpayer-Backed Federal Subsidies; Major Implications Seen for Companies and SMR Test Sites in FL, MO, NC, OR, PA, SC, and TN.

A shift to “small modular reactors” (SMRs) is unlikely to breathe new life into the increasingly moribund U.S. nuclear power industry, since SMRs will likely require tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies or government purchase orders, create new reliability vulnerabilities, as well as serious concerns in relation to both safety and proliferation, according a report issued today by the nonprofit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) think tank .

The IEER report has implications for SMR companies headquartered or with planned test sites in Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Titled “Light Water Designs of Small Modular Reactors: Facts and Analysis the IEER report focuses on light water reactor (LWR) SMR designs, the development and certification of which the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is already subsidizing at taxpayer expense. The four leading SMR designs are: mPower Reactor by Charlotte, NC-headquartered Babcock & Wilcox Company, which, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority, could get from the DOE up to $226 million in federal funding, of which $79 million has been secured; Westinghouse Electric, headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA., and now working with Missouri-based utility Ameren to secure DOE funding for design and certification of the Westinghouse SMR; Jupiter, FL-based Holtec, the subject of a DOE agreement for the construction of a Holtec SMR test unit at the Savannah River Site, a nuclear-weapon materials facility near Aiken, S.C. and NuScale Power, a Corvallis, OR. Company, which has signed an agreement with the DOE to build a NuScale Power SMR demonstration unit at the Savannah River Site.

Key conclusions of the IEER report include the following:

$90 billion manufacturing order book could be required for mass production of SMRs. As the report notes: “SMR proponents claim that small size will enable mass manufacturing in a factory and shipment to the site as an assembled unit, which will enable considerable savings in two ways. First, it would reduce onsite construction cost and time; second, mass manufacturing will make up in economies of volume production what is lost in economies of scale. In other words, modular reactors will be economical because they will be more like assembly-line cars than hand-made Lamborghinis … A hundred [mPower] 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. This would make the SMR assembly- line launch something like creating a new commercial airliner, say like Dreamliner or the Airbus 350 … SMRs will still present enormous financial risks, but that risk would be shifted from the reactor site to the supply chain and the assembly lines. Shifting from the present behemoths to smaller unit sizes is a financial risk shell game, not a reduction in risk.”

Who pays?: China or massive federal subsidies … or both. As the report notes, the industry’s forecast of relatively inexpensive individual SMRs is predicated on major orders and assembly line production. However, “China, where 28 reactors are under construction, already has a much better supply chain than the United States. So the U.S. government subsidies to B&W, TVA, and Westinghouse and others may pave the way for an assembly line in China! In fact, Westinghouse has already signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation ‘to develop an SMR based on Westinghouse SMR technology.’ .. The alternative to Chinese manufacture would be federal government subsidies to set up manufacturing in the United States.” Westinghouse has claimed that U.S. reactor orders would be sourced in the US – but would require two supply chains. Already, there is discussion of billions of dollars in additional federal subsidies for SMRs to do what the private marketplace will not.

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.

Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., nuclear engineer and president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, and author of the SMR report, said:

“SMRs are a poor bet to solve nuclear power’s problems and we see many troubling ways in which SMRs might actually make the nuclear power industry’s current woes even worse. SMRs are being promoted vigorously in the wake of the failure of the much-vaunted nuclear renaissance. But SMRs don’t actually reduce financial risk; they increase it, transferring it from the reactor purchaser to the manufacturing supply chain. Given that even the smaller risk of projects consisting of one or two large reactors is considered a ‘bet my company’ risk it is difficult to see that Wall Street would be interested in betting much larger sums on financing the SMR supply chain without firm orders. But those orders would not be forthcoming without a firm price, which cannot be established without a mass manufacturing supply chain. This indicates that only massive federal intervention with tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and orders could make mass-manufacturing of SMRs a reality in the United States.”

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.”

Dr. Makhijani added:

“Without huge federal subsidies, the SMR supply chain is likely to emerge in other countries, probably China, even if the designs are proven and tested in the United States. Why would China order large numbers of U.S. reactors when it can set up its own supply chain and can manufacture industrial goods more cheaply? It is fanciful and impractical to believe that SMRs can bring large numbers of industrial jobs to the United States in a globalized world economy governed by World Trade Organization rules. Efficiency improvements and wind-generated electricity, are already cheaper than new large reactors. On the other hand, commercialization of SMRs will require mass manufacturing facilities for the entire supply chain, which will take a decade or more, if there are sufficient orders. By that time, a distributed grid based on renewable energy is likely to be a reality, eliminating the need for a new generation of nuclear reactors large or small.”

Other key report findings include the following:

SMRs could reduce some safety risks but also create new ones, particularly if current reactor rules are relaxed. Key elements of SMRs would be underground. “These [safety] features [of SMRs] would reduce some risks. But they could create new problems as well. For instance, they could aggravate the problem of flooding … Safety improvements may be reduced because SMR proponents are already arguing for changes in regulations to reduce costs. For instance, the current mPower design would have just three personnel for operating for two reactors – an operator for each reactor and one supervisor overseeing them both. This raises serious safety questions – will three operating staff be able to adequately respond to and manage a serious accident? Reducing security requirements, the plant exclusion zone, and the 10-mile emergency planning zone are other industry regulatory goals for SMRs.”

It breaks, you bought it: No thought is evident on how to handle SMR recalls. “Millions of cars, presumably made to high quality control are routinely recalled. The most comparable example in terms of the size of the supply chain and overall order books for SMRs would be passenger aircraft. Boeing Dreamliners were presumably rigorously designed, tested, and certified before they entered into service. But battery failures, including a fire in flight resulted in a worldwide grounding of all the planes. How would a similar situation with SMRs be handled? Would they all be shut down pending resolution of an issue of comparable significance? What about grid stability, if SMRs supply almost 25 percent of the electricity by 2035 (as has been suggested).”

See the full report here. http://ieer.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SmallModularReactors_Aug2013-final2.pdf

The nonprofit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research provides interested parties with understandable and accurate scientific and technical information on energy and environmental issues. IEER’s aim is to bring scientific excellence to public policy issues in order to promote the democratization of science and a safer, healthier environment.


Given the priority attached to the need for transitioning to a carbon free energy infrastructure, it's important to know what the most effective path to that goal is as charted by those who have no vested interest in promoting any given technology. To that end Dr. Makhijani's prescription is highly recommended reading.
Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free

The goal of the Carbon-Free Nuclear-Free project is to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels by promoting a zero-CO2 economy in the U.S., and to and to lay out a roadmap to achieve this as soon as is technically and economically practical, without resorting to nuclear power. It will take an integrated and comprehensive solution, as the issues of climate change, nuclear weapons proliferation, and security of oil supplies are intimately connected.

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Reply Smaller, transportable nuclear reactor (Original post)
kristopher Aug 2013 OP
kristopher Aug 2013 #1
kristopher Aug 2013 #2
NNadir Aug 2013 #3
oldhippie Aug 2013 #4
kristopher Aug 2013 #5

Response to kristopher (Original post)

Tue Aug 20, 2013, 10:59 AM

1. A Nuclear Reactor Competitive with Natural Gas

A Nuclear Reactor Competitive with Natural Gas
General Atomics has applied for DOE funds to commercialize a nuclear reactor that could lower electricity costs by 40 percent.

A novel type of reactor could cut the cost of nuclear power by as much as 40 percent, making it far more competitive with fossil-fuel power plants. Designed by General Atomics, a San Diego–based company, the reactor could also be safer than existing reactors and reduce nuclear waste by 80 percent.

General Atomics has been working on the reactor for five years. Now it is trying to win several hundred million dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, which the company says would be crucial to commercializing the technology. At least one other new design aims to substantially reduce the cost of nuclear power, but it’s from a startup with limited funding (see “Safer Nuclear Power, at Half the Price”).

In the United States, where natural gas is cheap, the main thing keeping utilities from building nuclear plants is their expense. While some other new reactor designs lower the up-front cost of nuclear power, they don’t necessarily lower electricity costs (see “Can Small Reactors Ignite a Nuclear Renaissance?”). Estimates from the Energy Information Administration suggest that if the General Atomics design cuts the cost of electricity by 40 percent as the company claims, new nuclear power plants would be economically competitive with natural-gas plants.

John Parmentola, senior vice president of the Energy Group at General Atomics, says the new reactor will be safer than many conventional ones. In the case of a power failure, it is designed to shut down and cool off without the need to continuously pump in coolant. This is accomplished in part by using ceramics that can withstand very high temperatures without melting...

Hold on MIT, you're doing it again - channelling the claims of the nuclear industry without a moment of critical thought.

From a link in the comments of the above article:
"...no engineering firm is proposing these well understood designs for mass production. The cost of naval small reactor power never becomes competitive, even if mass produced. And nuclear naval vessels dont have to worry about cooling water, making them structurally cheaper than these proposed new SMRs."

Small is Ugly – the case against Small Modular Reactors

Small is flexible. But it turns out that 180 to 250 MW of these new designs is not actually small. The obstacle Germany and other countries face as they move to increasingly renewable solutions is that these big point source power producers interfere with grid distribution, basically renewable electricity has to be routed around them. This is why the closer of reactors is so important in terms of building a real flexible renewables feed network of microgrids. Big reactors are a big problem for the grid, these small reactors are still big enuf to be a problem.

It is certainly possible that small reactors could be built in factories and shipped to sites nearly complete. It is not a coincidence that large reactors have been built for so long and in so many places around the world by so many different engineering firms with some of the highest paid executives and engineers in the world. I dont like them, but these are not stupid people.

There are huge fixed costs associated with getting reactors running at all. You need tremendous water supplies, large grid connections, waste and fuel handling facilities – there are favorable economies of scale to large reactors. The reason dozens of engineering firms in over 30 countries around the globe have built big reactors (and multiple units where ever they could) is not because they all made the same mistake, it is because to make this huge investment even begin to make sense you need to do it in a big way. It is unclear if the mass production savings of SMRs will offset the economy of scale advantages of current designs. And they certainly will not for the first handful of these SMRs.

The small reactors we find in nuclear military vessels produce electricity ridiculously high prices per kilowatt. This is why no engineering firm is proposing these well understood designs for mass production. The cost of naval small reactor power never becomes competitive, even if mass produced. And nuclear naval vessels dont have to worry about cooling water, making them structurally cheaper than these proposed new SMRs.

The energy mix argument is a throw away...

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Response to kristopher (Reply #1)

Tue Aug 20, 2013, 08:25 PM

2. I thought the pronuclear camp would love this thread...

Guess not.

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Response to kristopher (Reply #2)

Fri Aug 23, 2013, 01:12 AM

3. Really? You thought that pronuclear folks would be impressed by a chanting blogger...

...criticizing the scientists at a major university - one to which said blogger, knowing no science whatsoever, could never hope to be admitted, MIT - would interest the pro-nuclear "camp?"

One can never be surprised to learn what you "think."

I can't speak for the entire pro-nuclear community, since many of them are busy trying to save lives from the pernicious effects of fear and ignorance, but to the extent that I'm interested in what you say, it is only to understand how entrenched fear and ignorance are, even as the curtain falls.

And falling it is:


I do understand however the exuberance of the blubbering, blogging, benighted bores who have brought on this tragedy. They have never been so interested in the fate of the rest of humanity as in their own victory, and surely, as the linked Mauna Loa figures show, they have won.

Have a nice day tomorrow, but I wouldn't waste too much of it trying to understand the first thing about nuclear engineering. For one thing, it requires an understanding of two subjects at which antii-nukes are very, very, very, very, very, very bad: Science and math.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #3)

Fri Aug 23, 2013, 10:06 AM

4. NNadir - +1/kristopher - 0


Once again.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #3)

Fri Aug 23, 2013, 03:35 PM

5. Poor little wtNnads...

You mean "bloggers" like you? Weren't you even kicked off of DKos for the ALEC agenda crap you keep peddling?

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