‘Miniature’ Nuclear Plant Could Be Used for Energy Storage

by | Jan 23, 2017

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In a major step toward the deployment of the next generation of advanced nuclear technology, Portland-Oregon-based NuScale Power has asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve (PROJ0769) the company’s small modular reactor (SMR) commercial power plant design – a nuclear reactor compact enough to be transported by a flatbed truck, according to a January 16 report by Futurism.

NuScale Power believes that, using their new “miniature” nuclear power plant design, a 570-MW project could go live for less than $3 billion.

The company envisions that a miniaturized version of these plants could be used as backup for wind turbines, or be used to provide power on military bases in the event of a grid failure, according to the online news source…

“The NuScale SMR will supply affordable, clean, reliable power in scalable plants whose facility output can be incrementally increased depending on demand. Its significant operational flexibility is also complementary to other zero-carbon sources like wind and solar. Once approved, global demand for NuScale plants will create thousands of jobs during manufacturing, construction and operation, and reestablish U.S. global leadership in nuclear technology,” the company claimed in an official statement.

History of the project

NuScale became involved in the U.S. Department of Energy-funded research project back in 2000. Idaho National Environment & Engineering Laboratory led the project with support from Oregon State University. When the DOE research project concluded in 2003, OSU continued to pursue the design of a small nuclear plant that used natural circulation to provide cooling.

Ultimately, the team at OSU built a one-third scale electrically-heated version of their plant as a test facility for this design. OSU granted NuScale Power exclusive rights to the nuclear power plant design, as well as the continued use of the test facility, through a technology transfer agreement completed in 2007.

NuScale notified the NRC in February 2008 of its intent to pursue DC for its technology. The company is in the pre-application review phase with the NRC. 

Design features

NuScale Power’s concept is anchored on a modular design that will require assembly at designated facilities before it is delivered to power utilities. The module will house a self-contained, 50-megawatt nuclear reactor with uranium reactor fuel. A plant will likely require several of these modules operating simultaneously, and will still require nuclear engineers to operate, but with other significant advantages.

Thus, while it is described as “miniature,” the nuclear plant still takes up considerable space – mostly vertical. The modules do fit on flatbed trucks, according to a National Public Radio (NPR) report, but they stand nine stories tall.

Given the size, it will require less uranium fuel, which minimizes the risk of massive meltdowns, NPR said. As an added safety feature, the uranium is not only housed in a special containment vessel, it will also be submerged in water. And to avoid disasters similar to Fukushima, where the pumps used to circulate the water failed, the miniature reactor will use natural convection.

Placing several modules in a single location will provide the same power output as a commercial reactor, NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Mike McGough, told NPR.

However, Ed Lyman, an analyst from the Union of Concerned Scientists told the radio station that he worried that scaling down the size and strength of the reactor containment building, as well as reducing the team required to operate it, could  compromise the safety of the reactor.

Going forward

NuScale’s application to the NRC comprises about 12,000 pages of technical information. The NRC is expected to take the next two months to determine if any additional information is required prior to commencing their review. Thereafter, the NRC has targeted completing the certification process within 40 months.

According to NPR, if the design wins approval, NuScale hopes to switch on its first plant by 2026.

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