In late July, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved for commercial use NuScale Power’s design for a new kind of nuclear power plant. We first alerted readers to the novel design in “Race Is On For Faster, Cleaner” (31 Jul 2015).
Gone are the concrete towers, the years of construction, and billion-dollar cost overruns.
Instead, the company’s reactors are made up of modules mass-produced in factories and then shipped to a site, where fuel can be loaded.
Each module is 65 feet tall and nine feet in diameter, or about 20 meters by three, and can deliver 77 megawatts of power by making steam that spins a turbine.
As many as 12 modules can be linked together, scaling the amount of power produced to the need—for example, running a small factory or a college campus.
If the need for power is temporary, as in a military beachhead, the modules can be shut down, disconnected, and moved to another site where they’re needed.
By generating power close to the user, the cost and trouble of building and maintaining a network of transmission lines can be slashed or even virtually eliminated.
If something goes wrong, the modules are designed to shut themselves off automatically, without having to wait for a human to notice a problem or make a decision.
The valves operating the reactor core in each module will close in an emergency and other valves will open to vent pressurized steam from the modules’ cores into a containment vessel surrounding the modules.
The steam in the containment vessel condenses back to water as it cools, then is recirculated back through the core to absorb and carry away more heat.
If worst comes to worst, the modules and containment vessel are sunk in a water bath and surrounded by a concrete housing that will contain radiation leaks. The housing is designed to survive earthquakes and a direct impact by a crashing airplane.
NuScale’s first customer is the Idaho National Laboratory, where six of the company’s modules will be linked and begin generating electricity in 2029.
The resulting power is already under contract by local utility companies.
TRENDPOST: NuScale’s nuclear reactor is carbon-free like its giant, antiquated ancestors but promises to be safer as well as to advance a decentralized energy grid.
That’s a positive contribution to carbon reduction.
However, carbon-free is not waste-free. The problem of spent nuclear fuel remains and will continue to plague the industry, complicating the use and slowing the deployment of next-gen nuke plants.
NuScale’s factory-made modular nuclear reactor.