Micro Nuclear Power

Micro Nuclear Power

Will the next step in nuclear power be micro-nuclear power plants?

These are to be rated 1.5 MW, which compares with today’s operating nuclear power plants rated around 1,025 MW.

It had been thought that modular reactors, rated around 300 MW, or less, would be the type of reactor to replace the large reactors now in service.

Micro-reactors could, therefore, provide an additional alternative to the future of nuclear power.

A report in 2019, by the Nuclear Energy Institute, Cost Competitiveness of Micro-Reactors for Remote Markets, outlined the advantages of micro reactors.

The report defined micro-reactors as being rated between 1 and 10 MW.

There are several companies reportedly involved with micro-reactors, including, Elysium Industries, General Atomics, HolosGen, NuGen and X-energy.

Most recently, Oklo Power LLC, a small start up, received considerable media attention with its announcement that the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) had selected Oklo to demonstrate the first-of-its-kind use of recycled high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel. 

By itself, the use of HALEU fuel is noteworthy, because it will take highly enriched uranium and reduce its concentration to 20%. This compares with the 3% to 5% concentration used by existing nuclear power plants.

All of this is very preliminary, but opens the door to building the physical plant to produce HALEU in larger quantities. 

The HALEU process could resolve, to a great extent, what to do with highly reactive waste. Oklo Power LLC is planning on using HALEU that was previously produced from the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II).

Oklo Power LLC submitted an “Application for a custom combined license for a compact fast micro-reactor, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions (NRC), in March 2020, with the reactor to be constructed at the Idaho National Laboratory.

A final safety report (FSR) was issued by the NRC, which is the first, and very important step, in the process of developing this reactor.

Micro-reactors could become a reality, recognizing they are still in the early stages of development.

Meanwhile, modular reactors of several types are ready for construction, assuming NRC approval.

Examples include:

  • Terra Power, 345 MW reactor, which was recently in the news with Bill Gates promoting its liquid sodium design. 
  • ThorCon, which uses thorium, is being developed in Indonesia.
  • NuScale Power, based in Portland OR, is the first small scale modular reactor to ever receive approval of its design from the NRC.

While there are new advances in the development of nuclear power, the nuclear industry must still address, and resolve, two critical issues if nuclear power is to move forward in the United States.

  • Fear of radiation
  • Cost

The public’s fear of radiation can be traced to the movie China Syndrome, which mislead Americans as to what could happen if a nuclear reactor failed. 

The movie told its audience that a reactor meltdown would allow the core to burrow into the ground, which, when reaching the water table, would erupt into a cloud of radiation making the state of Pennsylvania uninhabitable. This was a fabrication, and everyone involved should have known it was a lie.

This was the lie that compounded the fear generated by the Three Mile Island accident, and the Chernobyl, operator created, disaster.

Environmentalists have done a great disservice to the United States by perpetuating the fear of radiation, continuing do so with the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear power is safe. We are all exposed to radiation every day, especially when we fly. Think of the radiation exposure people will receive when they fly in space. It will be greater than anyone ever received from the Three Mile Island accident.

The recent cost of building a nuclear reactor has ballooned to over $6,000 per KW, which compares with the $1,000 per KW cost of building a natural gas combined cycle power plant.

The first cost of a nuclear power plant should be under $3,000 per KW if it is to be an acceptable financial risk. 

GE claims that its BWRX 300 small modular reactor can be built for $3,000 per KW, but until the unit is built, it is still only an estimate.

From BWRX 300 website

The nuclear power industry needs to focus on these two issues, the public’s fear of radiation and cost, if new nuclear power plants are to be successful in the United States.

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3 Replies to “Micro Nuclear Power”

    • Donn, a few comments.

      First, the fuel cost of a nuclear reactor is very low – about 15% of the cost of generation. So it can have a much higher cost of construction and still finish up cheaper than a gas-fired combined cycle. Especially if gas prices are going up.

      Everybody tells you that the cost of wind and solar is going down and will continue to do so. Which is largely happened. But it doesn’t stop them rubbishing nuclear power because the prototypes are very expensive and run into problems. Wind turbines still haven’t solved the problem of bearing and gearbox failures.

      Nuclear power stations are much simpler than coal-fired power stations (the good ones anyway) and will get cheaper and cheaper and more are built and as the regulators begin to understand that they can’t regulate modern mass produced reactors on the basis of licensing each one as though it was brand-new and different.

      • Great to hear from you.
        Thanks for your comments. I agree with all you have said.
        It’s been more than unfortunate that the units now being built in Georgia have gone way over budget. Terrible management plus the usual regulatory issues. The Vogtle units will probably cost out at over $8,000 per KW.
        $3,000 per KW, or somewhat less, should make nuclear competitive with NGCC power plants. I say somewhat less, because natural gas could go below $3.00 per MMBTU again. Right now, it’s at about $3.80 Henry Hub.