The Next Big Thing in Nuclear Power: Going Small

From AOL News

By Jared Anderson

The ‘economies of scale’ approach the nuclear industry pursued for decades is getting turned on its ear as small modular reactors are poised represent the next generation of nuclear power.

Most of today’s existing nuclear plants consist of large reactors that generate thousands of megawatts, but an onerous licensing process, difficulties financing multi-billion dollar construction projects and unresolved waste issues have led the industry in a different direction.

“We see more focus on SMRs across the industry as a whole,” former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who is now Clean and Safe Energy Coalition Co-chair recently told AOL Energy.

The nuclear power industry and utilities face a challenge as nuclear plants approach and reach the end of their originally-designed lives. Simply shutting these plants down would be extremely difficult – in some cases impossible – for power grids to handle and could result in power failures and increased electricity costs because they generate power on such a large scale. In many cases, the problem is being dealt with by extending operating licenses.

“They [utilities] will re-license [existing plants] as long as it’s safe to do so – but the focus will be on SMRs,” Gov. Whitman said.

The smaller reactors would be constructed in factories and could essentially be ‘plugged in,’ once transported to their desired location. As reported earlier this year by AOL Energy, “the modules can’t exceed 13 feet in diameter because factory-assembled units must be rail-shippable to sites. Modules would be placed in an underground structure, and replaced when their four-year fuel cycle is completed.

The small scale means all forging can be done in North American factories, unlike conventional nuclear plants whose large parts must be forged overseas.”

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