What’s Next for Small Modular Reactors in the United States?

A number of countries have SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) under development.  Russia has been working on various models for some time and is famous for its RITM-200, the reactor powering its new nuclear icebreaker. Most recently South Korea announced that it has received its own state regulator approval for the SMART SMR and would soon be selling it around the world.  

Read the SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs report – link at the bottom of the page.

And, the U.S.?  The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy issued a Funding Announcement Opportunity (FOA) for a Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support Program  back on March 22, 2012. This government-industry cost share program was  for the design certification and licensing of up to two light water SMRs. Several applied, recently only one – B&W’s mPower design – was awarded funding.

On April 3, 2012, just weeks after the original FOA from the DOE came out in March, but well before the award was made, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu charged the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) with creating a subcommittee to report on what the U.S. should do above and beyond the existing FOA for two light water reactors. Secretary Chu wrote, “The broad purpose of the SEAB subcommittee on SMRs is to advise the Secretary on ways to advance this technology to achieve a global leadership role in civil nuclear technology for the United States, and ways for DOE to accelerate that role.”

Specifically, Secretary Chu charged, “Looking beyond the current DOE program authorized by Congress and begun by the FOA, this SEAB Subcommittee will: (1) Identify areas in which standards for safety, security and nonproliferation should be developed for SMRs to enhance U.S. leadership in civil nuclear energy, and (2) Identify challenges, uncertainties and risks to commercialization and provide advice on policies and other approaches that may be appropriate to manage these risks and accelerate deployment in support of national goals.”

I attended the “open meeting” in the Spring and came back and put the question to several of the “Linked-In’ groups on nuclear power:  “What would you advise the SEAB subcommittee on SMRs?”

There was a huge response.  After the discussions had gone on for a couple of months, I gathered the input with everyone’s consent and contact information and sent it in one very long letter to Dr. Nicholas M. Donofrio, Chairman of the SMR subcommittee. Before Thanksgiving, I received a letter back thanking everyone who participated on “Linked-In” and with the link to the completed report that was approved by the SEAB main committee.  Here it is: Report from SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs.

In another blog entry – and maybe on Linked-In – we’ll discuss some of the contents of the report.  In the interim, thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion via the various nuclear groups back during the summer of 2012 …!  Keep speaking up!  Happy Holidays!

Again, here’s the pertinent links:

Report from SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs

The subcommittee’s original marching orders

The DOE’s web site on SMRs

Fast Reactors are the Future of Nuclear Power (and They are Already Here)

Nuclear reactors. In a time when the safety image of the nuclear industry is still recovering from the events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan this past Spring, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just released a huge manual of information which should help disseminate information and encourage yet another type of power reactor. But this, to steal a phrase from home economic guru Martha Stewart, “is a good thing.”

The reactors that experienced problems in Japan were quite frankly old. They were still using old, what is known as “light water” technology. What the IAEA has just released is a compilation of information on “fast neutron reactors.” Fast reactors use what’s termed “liquid metal” as a coolant. The most popular of the “metals” right now is sodium, but lead bismuth, having been successfully utilized in Russian nuclear submarines, is also gaining momentum. 

An advantage of “fast reactors” is that they can reduce the total radiotoxicity of nuclear waste and dramatically reduce the waste’s lifetime. They can also be designed to utilize the useful fuel in nuclear waste. This of course, would cut down on the need to mine uranium.

Fast reactors can also run longer than light water reactors without refueling. This cuts down the amount of risk associated with refueling that occurs every 18 to 24 months for light water reactors.

The new manual from the IAEA compiles a lot of information and covers a lot of ground that nuclear power researchers and engineers will need to further develop fast reactors. What’s been holding back the development and further use of this technology is the lack of information available for sharing within the nuclear industry. A comprehensive report on fast reactors – now that’s a good thing

To access the report, “Status and Trends of Nuclear Fuels Technology for Sodium Cooled Fast Reactors,” go to: http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/8333/Status-and-Trends-of-Nuclear-Fuels-Technology-for-Sodium-Cooled-Fast-Reactors

Deborah Deal-Blackwell