Nuclear Microreactors (SMRs—small modular reactors)

A plethora of small designs and business models are emerging.  A 25-megawatt reactor is 1/64 the size and complexity of a standard large 1.6 gigawatt reactor from Westinghouse or AREVA.  It costs $25 million (Hyperion says) instead of $6-9 billion and could power a small town.  Most of the microreactors are designed to operate singly or in tandem: you can start small and grow your plant as needed.

Russia is building barges with two 35-megawatt nuclear propulsion reactors, water-cooled.  The first is expected to be operational in 2011.

Toshiba’s 10-50-megawatt “4S” fast-neutron reactor is sodium-cooled

The “SSTAR” fast breeder reactor design from Lawrence Livermore Labs is capable of 10-100 megawatts.

Hyperion expects to install its first 25-megawatt uranium-hydride reactor by 2013.

NuScale’s 40-megawatt light water reactor could be operational by 2015.

Pebble bed reactors are gas-cooled, high-temperature, meltdown-proof, with a range of 100 megawatts and up.  China is developing the technology rapidly.

The new 125-megawatt “mPower” reactor design from Babcock & Wilcox is designed to be factory-built and shipped by rail.

[SMRs = Small and Medium-Sized Nuclear Reactors]

This slide from Richard Black at the Department of Energy lists some of the perceived uses and advantages of microreactors—including powering deactivated coal-fired plants, disaster service, and providing “process heat” (co-generation) for industrial applications such as desalination, hydrogen production, and chemical plants.

   —The slide is from Black’s talk at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Workshop on microreactors October 8-9, 2009.

A small 100-megawatt fourth-generation “integral fast reactor” design called ARC-100 from Advanced Reactor Concepts, employing nuclear “waste” from earlier reactors, might be used to desalinate water or generate hydrogen as well as electricity locally.