published Friday, August 9th, 2013

Small-scaling nuclear reactors: New report says SMRs not quite the fix

A report released today by the nonprofit think tank, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, indicates that small modular reactors, sometimes called SMRs, are a poor bet to revive the increasingly moribund nuclear industry in the United States.

The report has implications for TVA and Oak Ridge, as the Tennessee Valley Authority is working with two of the world’s biggest nuclear contractors — Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel Corp. — to test a pilot prefab reactor known as mPower.

TVA hasn’t decided if it ultimately will build the new type of reactor, but aided by up to $226 million of funding support from the federal government, TVA and its partners have agreed to be the first to test the mPower design. The utility plans to seek regulatory approval by next year to build two of the new reactors on the Clinch River in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

If approved, the new 180-megawatt reactors could be producing enough power for all the energy needs of Oak Ridge by 2022.

The Institute’s report said one of the advantages claimed by SMR supporters — that the small size of the reactors would enable mass manufacturing in a factory so costs would drop considerably — also is likely its downfall. If prefab reactors will be economical because they will be more like assembly-line cars than hand-made Lamborghinis, an order of 100 or so would be needed to persuade investors to build an assembly plant.

“A hundred [mPower] reactors, each costing about $900 million, … would amount to an order book of $90 billion,” the report states.

Wall Street has made it clear that financiers have deemed nuclear power plant construction too risky. That leaves China or massive federal subsidies or both, according to the report’s author, Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

He said SMRs are being promoted vigorously in the wake of the failure of the much-vaunted nuclear renaissance, but SMRs don’t actually reduce financial risk; they increase it, transferring it from the reactor purchaser to the manufacturing supply chain.

“Given that even the smaller risk of projects consisting of one or two large reactors is considered a ‘bet my company’ risk it is difficult to see that Wall Street would be interested in betting much larger sums on financing the SMR supply chain without firm orders. But those orders would not be forthcoming without a firm price, which cannot be established without a mass manufacturing supply chain,” he said. “This indicates that only massive federal intervention with tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and orders could make mass-manufacturing of SMRs a reality in the United States.”

SMR supporters have said the U.S. could export the reactors, but in releasing the Institute’s report Thursday, M.V. Ramana, Nuclear Futures Laboratory and Program on Science and Global Security with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said his own analysis shows SMRs would “likely increase proliferation risks.”

“Left unaddressed, risk increases by about 45 percent,” Ramana said.

TVA officials say the public utility is doing the exploratory work to answer key questions about their use and competive advantages, including safety advantages — not the least of which is that they cool faster.

“This technology has the potential to reshape energy needs and policy. Why would you not explore that potential?” said TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield.

But exploring nuclear power is never cheap. As with all things nuclear, much more research is needed before lots more taxpayer money and lots more TVA ratepayer money is used to test this out.

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anticorp said...

Why not put more research into the various energy storage systems and Feed in Tariffs, with space for 75% of America's energy needs sitting over our heads in our homes.

How many times do we have to be bludgeoned by Fukashima's, 3 Mile Island and Chernobyls by this dangerous technology? Florida is staring at the possibility of a slow motion China Syndrome at the broken Crystal River nuke. Follows is my impression of Florida's energy woes. Maybe Tn can do better.

Socialized corporate costs and losses

"This long time registered Republican has had it. Nuclear energy is and has been dangerous, the most expensive and an epic polluter, and not just after an accident. They’re also a huge grid security risk.

I recently read about Duke Energy’s disastrous attempt to repair an aging Crystal River nuclear plant. Now they’re stuck with an old broken nuke, or should I say “we” are stuck with it (big bucks$$$)? Big Energy’s political power has coerced us (via the Republican dominated legislature and Public Service Commission) to prepay for these private companies to build and maintain these monstrosities. To add insult to injury, the PCS granted them an additional .89/mo on every electric bill to continue to pay&pay&pay “trying” to cope with their disaster.

Word is they are cancelling the construction of another one in Levy County , after collecting millions in prepayment construction costs. FP&L will surely be right on their heels.

Florida’s Republican Crony Capitalists have driven this rip-off of the public and fighting tooth and nail a .70/mo Feed-In-Tariff that lets individuals quickly pay for producing their own electricity on their roofs. Corporations YES! Individual citizens NO! - The Republican mantra as they desperately try to limit it the wildly popular FIT to Gainesville (with its waiting list).

Our roofs can provide us with clean and profitable energy if we can get Republicans off our backs."

August 9, 2013 at 8:15 p.m.
Fryyo said...

What the clueless person above doesn't realize or understand is that, while he moans and groans - what are the other alternatives? Right now the TVA nuclear plants make power for $6 - $10 a Mw/hr and TVA is paying almost $60 a Mw/hr for wind power, just so they can say they have it. You can't run industrial customers with solar panels on roofs. What would it cost to maintenance 1,000,000 houses with solar panels on top? And how are the poor going to afford the $20,000 to put in a solar panel system? The truth is that nuclear power is keeping everyone's bills a lot lower than they otherwise would be. If we didn't have the nukes, the power bills would literally double. I'm sure those just barely making it would really appreciate that. As usual, Mr. Anitcorp is beating his chest about his one issue with no thought about the broader implications of his poorly considered opinions.

August 10, 2013 at 8:20 a.m.
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