Are Mini-Reactors The Future Of Nuclear Power?
By Ben Bradford
The U.S. government is investing millions of dollars in what it considers a promising new industry for American manufacturing: nuclear reactors. The plan is to build hundreds of mini-reactors, dot them around the U.S. and export them overseas.
Development of these reactors are already in the works, and at one office park in Lynchburg, Va., where one of these reactors is being assembled, the traditional signs of nuclear reactors are nowhere to be found. There are no cooling towers that look like smoke stacks, no clouds of steam over the buildings — just a research building and a tower about nine stories tall.
Inside, the plant’s manager, Doug Lee, leads the way down through secure doors. It feels like the inside of a refrigerator but noisier. Spinning fans and water pumps drown out the sounds of hissing steam. At the reactor core, Lee stops.
“I can’t let you in here,” Lee says. “But this is the base of the tower, and this is the lower portion of the large tower you saw when you came in. This is our simulated reactor vessel.”
It’s simulated because the design still needs Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval.
“This is analogous to the core in a nuclear plant where the fission reaction takes place,” Lee says.
The entire reactor — the core, the cooling system, everything — is self-contained in this rocket-shaped steel cylinder. The industry says that makes it safer. And the reactors will be small enough to build in a factory and ship on trucks, like prefabricated houses. They’ll generate about one-tenth the power of a typical nuclear power plant.
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