SMR Q&A

Questions & Answers About Small Modular Reactors

We have prepared this analysis by adding comments to the answers to Frequently Asked Questions on NuScale Power’s website. Our comments respond to specific NuScale questions and answers, but many of our responses apply to SMRs in general. Some of our comments seem negative but they should be viewed as constructive criticism.

A.  Corporate Commitment

1.  When was NuScale Power formed?

NuScale Power was officially incorporated in 2007. However, development of the original reactor concept was initiated in 2000 as a collaborative project with Oregon State University, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, and Nexant. The original concept, designated as Multi-Application Small Light-Water Reactor” (MASLWR), was refined by OSU after the conclusion of the initial 3-year project and became the basis for the current NuScale design.

2. Who provides the financial backing for NuScale Power?

NuScale Power was originally financed by a collection of strategic partners and capital venture investors. In October 2011, Fluor Engineering became the majority investor and a key strategic partner for engineering, procurement and construction services. To date, Fluor has invested over $170 million in NuScale in addition to leveraging Fluor’s international resources and experience with the existing nuclear fleet.

Flour is an excellent company who is very experienced in nuclear plant construction.

In December 2013, the US Department of Energy announced their selection of NuScale Power to receive up to $226M of matching funds to support the further development of the design and to secure a Design Certification from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This public-private partnership will help to accelerate the completion of the design, licensing, and first-of-a-kind engineering, which will enable potential deployment of the first plant by 2024-2025.

This is a realistic time line under the current design and permitting process. However, this is way to long. It is very likely that by 2025 Japan, China, and/or India will have sold dozens of SMRs! We need to fast track the development of SMRs.

3.  The NuScale design includes many innovations—is this intellectual property being protected?

NuScale has been actively pursuing patent protection for the many innovations contained within our design. In a recent press release, we announced that more than 100 patents are now in force or pending in 17 North American, European, or Asian countries. The number of patent filings continues to increase as innovative engineering solutions are developed throughout the plant design.

This paragraph sounds like investor speak. Will the taxpayers share in any profits? Will China respect NuScale’s patents?

4.  Is NuScale Power pursuing international customers and investors?

There is substantial international interest in small modular reactors and in the NuScale design specifically. We are actively pursuing this huge market opportunity while maintaining a priority on domestic licensing, manufacturing, and deployment opportunities.

Outside of the Hawaiian Islands and some isolated cities in Alaska, there is very little for need for small reactors in the United States. The American power grid is robust enough to distribute the power from numerous gigawatt reactors. NuScale should put their marketing effort into selling to the international market.

5.  Where do you expect the first NuScale plant to be built?

Ultimately, the location of the first plant will be decided by the first customer. We are actively pursuing the development of a plant in Idaho, possibly on the federal site at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls. This is being explored by a multi-state consortium known as the Western Initiative for Nuclear (Project WIN™). Although located on the INL Site, the plant will be a fully commercial facility owned and operated by a regional utility or utility consortium.

The INL is undisputedly the best place to develop a SMR. To quote their website: “INL designed and constructed 52 reactors since its establishment in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station. For many years, it was the site of the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. After the first reactor at the National Reactor Testing Station (Experimental Breeder Reactor-I) went critical in 1951, scientists built and operated dozens more reactors in the next five decades.” The INL is an excellent place to build a prototype module or two, but not a full-scale multi-module commercially viable generation facility. 

After the NuScale or any other manufacture’s SMR is built, tested, and determined to be ready for production, we suggest that the first commercial plant be built where its small size and load flexibility would be an asset. The contiguous United States is not the best market for SMUs, and the Northwest is probably the worst, as the plant will have to compete with the very flexible 3-cent per kilowatt hour power from our extensive system of dams. To recover its construction cost, the plant owners will want to run it flat-out (as does the Columbia Station) to maximize revenue. This would conflict with SMR developers desire to demonstrate module reliability when cycled up and down, on and off, in response to load changes.

We suggest the Hawaiian Islands as a candidate for NuScale’s first commercial plant.

With an internet search, we determined each Hawaiian Island’s current electrical generating capacity. Then we divided each island’s present megawatt capacity by 45 to determine the number of NuScale modules needed.

Oahu would need 40 modules. Oahu has enough electrical demand to justify a large nuclear plant or two, but that would provide little flexibility or backup. Building pairs of 12-module NuScale plants at two different locations would provide better flexibility and operational security.

Maui could start with a six-unit installation. The Big Island, Hawaii, needs seven units, Lanai, and Molokai would be overpowered with one unit each. All of the above islands are served by Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc.

Kauai is different as its electricity is provided by, consumer-owned, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative. For now, it only needs the power from 3-modules.

This might be an ideal location for NuScale’s first plant. We get the feeling from their 2013 Annual Report that they are a progressive organization, but more importantly, they are charging their customer-owners 36 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity.

Kauai would also be an ideal place to study the paradigm shift that will be caused by the introduction of SMRs to an isolated market with high electrical energy rates. When rates go down, demand goes up, and so will the demand for more modules. Even with its high electric rates, Kauai is going for electric vehicles. A June 25, 2012 posting on the Garden Island newspaper’s website announces that Kauai is only one of three places in the nation offering the fastest, Level 3 charging stations. It goes on to say that the Grand Hyatt in Po’ipu just added two Level 3 chargers to its existing Level 2 units and it is powering them with solar panels.

 

B.  Enhanced Safety

1.  How has safety been enhanced?

Safety is enhanced by deliberate design choices that eliminate as many potential risks as possible, reduce the likelihood of accidents, and ensure that if an accident does occur, the consequences are minimal.

True, but if the unthinkable accident happens the public will be equally concerned whether you spill a gram or a kilogram of radioactive material.

NuScale builds on lessons learned from the existing fleet of commercial power reactors and incorporates those lessons into the fundamental design of the NuScale plant, as well as including several new design innovations to further enhance safety.

As examples, the NuScale design eliminates many vulnerable pipes, pumps, and valves from the design and replaces many engineered backup systems with features that operate automatically relying on natural phenomena such as gravity, convection and conduction.

All new reactor designs feature simplification to reduce components and enhance safety. The GE ESBWR, the Holtec SMR160, and Westinghouse’s SMR use natural circulation to eliminate reactor circulation pumps.

The small unit size of the reactor and the assured heat removal mechanisms provided by the steel containment vessel and large reactor pool effectively guarantee that no fuel will be damaged even after an extreme event, and therefore, no radioactivity will be released. The NuScale design also adds multiple additional design features that can reduce or delay the release of radiation in the unlikely event that fuel is damaged.

Did we just read “reduce or delay the release of radiation in the unlikely event…” in the last sentence? And didn’t the previous sentence say “no radioactivity will be released”? Which is it? Fukushima is proof that unlikely events happen. Nuclear plants should be built underground so that NO radiation can escape! (think ICBM missile silo) Even if we assume that a SMR has one quarter the pipes, joints, and welds of a larger plant, a full complement of 12 modules will have three times as many places where mechanical failures could occur and then you still only have a facility that generates half the power of a large plant.

2.  How do you know it will be safe?

First, by basing the NuScale design on light-water reactor technology, we are able to build on the vast global experience with this technology, including material performance, water chemistry, transient behaviors, etc. Secondly, we are conducting an extensive test program that spans the gamut from physics-based separate effects tests to full-out integral performance tests. Thirdly, our design will be thoroughly reviewed and certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which sets the world standard for defining rigorous safety requirements.

Nothing is perfectly safe! All three major nuclear incidents, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were either cause by or exacerbated by human operator errors. The NuScale design’s safety improvements may reduce or eliminate the need for operator intervention in case of a major malfunction, but nothing can prevent a human from interfering in a detrimental way.

3.  What is the significance of your “triple crown” announcement and how do you achieve it?

In the spring of 2013, NuScale announced a major leap forward in nuclear safety by developing a novel engineering solution that will provide an unparalleled level of safety, security, and asset protection. Specifically, the design now provides for an unlimited period of cooling of the nuclear fuel and containment without the need for: (1) operator action, (2) AC or DC power, or (3) the resupply of cooling water. It provides stable long-term nuclear core cooling and plant recovery under all design basis accident conditions and also provides severe accident mitigation for low probability beyond design basis accidents. This safety breakthrough is enabled by the incorporation of fail-safe valves into the simple, assured emergency core cooling system. Key features of this system include a high-pressure containment vessel immersed in a large pool of water and a passive emergency core cooling system that relies only on gravity-driven convection of the coolant and conduction of heat to the containment vessel surface.

We are not sure of the exact nature of the “fail-safe valves” described above. We know that the Three Mile Island reactor overheated because humans violated the rules and disabled all three emergency cooling systems while the reactor was operating.  Also, we know that a stuck open PORV valve allowed the overheating to continue until the reactor melted. The operators knew that the PORV valve was defective but operated the reactor anyway. Giving three safety features a cute name does not make the design any safer.

4.  Does the small containment structure of a NuScale module decrease safety?

Actually, the unique containment design enhances the safety of a NuScale module in several ways. First, the pressure tolerance of a vessel is inversely proportional to its diameter, so making the containment vessel physically smaller allows it to withstand a higher pressure pulse than a large vessel. The NuScale containment vessel has a design pressure that is roughly 10 times higher than traditional plants. Secondly, the smaller volume inside the containment allows us to draw a vacuum in this space, which provides effective thermal insulation to the reactor vessel. This eliminates the need for insulation material on the vessel, which has been prone to flaking and sump clogging in existing plants. The vacuum also enhanced steam condensation rates on the inside surface of the submerged containment in the case where steam is vented from the reactor vessel, which in turn provides for very effective heat removal from the primary system. Finally, the lack of oxygen inside containment greatly reduces the likelihood of forming a combustible mixture of oxygen and hydrogen during accident situations.

The vacuum is a great idea.

5.  Didn’t Fukushima demonstrate that multi-module plants are too risky?

Quite the contrary. Many of the system failures that resulted in the destruction of several of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor units do not even exist in the NuScale design and our level of plant resilience is substantially higher than those at Fukushima. Regarding the implications of multi-unit plants or sites, one needs to first consider the Fukushima Daiichi “plant” as a collective 4550 MWe plant rather than 6 individual and independent plants. Had the plant been a single reactor of this combined power, the consequences of the tsunami would certainly have been much more severe. The fact that the plant was subdivided into six smaller units with power levels ranging from 440-1070 MWe limited the total consequences; in fact, two of the six units are still operable. (But have been permanently closed)

The NuScale plant is designed from the outset as a multi-unit plant with careful consideration of all multi-module impacts, including common-cause failures and accident propagation. Analysis to date indicate that in all cases, the subdividing of the total plant capacity, and concomitant hazard, into smaller units reduces the potential consequences from a severe event such as experienced in Fukushima.

The short answer it that Fukushima demonstrated that outside forces like earthquakes and Tsunamis can destroy a power plant whether it consists of one giant 4550 MWe plant or 100 NuScale modules. 

The illustration of the proposed NuScale plant shows that all of the reactors modules are enclosed in one large room and submerged in a common pool of water. A catastrophic failure of a module’s containment vessel would contaminate everything. However, what is more likely is an accident during routine maintenance. What if a spent fuel bundle is dropped on its way to the spent fuel pool? What about an old fashioned fire? Has NuScale searched the NRC incident database to determine the frequency of events that could contaminate the whole reactor building? Has this data been incorporated in to the calculations of the probability of plant failure?

 

C.  Regulatory Implications

1.  How active has NuScale Power been in engaging the US NRC?

Extremely. NuScale has conducted more than 50 meetings with the NRC since we formally initiated a project with them in 2008. NRC staff has spent more than 7000 hours of staff time reviewing NuScale material, have directly observed tests at our control room simulator and our integral systems test facility, and have audited our quality assurance program for the critical heat flux tests at Stern Laboratory and the steam generator tests at SIET laboratory. A thorough “gap analysis” was completed in 2012 to evaluate the existing regulatory framework and its applicability to our design, and we are currently working with the NRC to develop a design-specific review standard. This extensive pre-application engagement will help us to resolve any impacts resulting from our design innovations prior to submittal of our Design Certification Application.

The NRC website documents NuScale extensive involvement with the NRC. However, it seems ludicrous to think that the NRC can develop a complete set of review standards for a new, innovative reactor design before a prototype is built and tested. Everyone should be encouraging the NRC to fast track approval of full size “test” models of SMR designs. This way NuScale and other SMR developers can ring out the bugs before building a complete plant.

2.  Will you be requesting that the NRC relax or remove any safety regulations for your design?

No. The US NRC sets a world standard for enforcing rigorous safety standards and they do not intend to compromise this for SMRs, including NuScale. However, a given level of safety can be achieved in a variety of ways.

This is a excellent answer to this point. From here on, the author is guilty of puffery, and/or deception, as he is compares “Tradition plants,” whose designs are 30 to 40 years old, to NuScale’s proposed design. All the currently NRC approved designs include similar improvements. In fact, many are now NRC requirements.

Traditional plants have relied on engineered backup systems and administrative requirements to meet those safety requirements. The NuScale design incorporates enhanced safety into the basic design through elimination of several design vulnerabilities, reducing the likelihood of accidents and mitigating accident consequences through assured, passive backup systems. These intrinsic safety features will replace many traditional approaches while maintaining or improving the overall safety of the plant.

 3.  How will your plant’s staffing requirements compare to current plants?

Staffing levels for operations and security will be subject to review by the US NRC and will be appropriate for safe and secure operations. The elimination of many systems due to the simplicity of the modules will significantly reduce operator workload and allow for more automation in the control and monitoring of the reactors. The number of operators will be evaluated based on workload requirements and will be sufficient to achieve the same level of plant safety as for large, traditional designs. Similarly, the below-grade placement and compact footprint of the NuScale plant adds intrinsic security, which will help to minimize traditional security force requirements.

Are you kidding? Monitoring the operation of 12 machines, of any kind, will take more staff than monitoring just one. However, it may be an advantage to have a small, skilled, full time refueling team instead of bringing in a large crew every two years.

 4.  Why do you think that the Emergency Planning Zone can be reduced?

NuScale is working with other nuclear industry leaders through the Nuclear Energy Institute to develop a basis for quantitatively evaluating the extent of emergency planning and preparedness for a specific plant based on potential risk to the public. Risk can be reduced in several different ways; the traditional approach has been to define a large (10 mile radius) zone within which certain physical infrastructure and administrative procedures are applied as a precautionary measure. A more elegant approach, and the one adopted by NuScale, is to reduce risk through intrinsic design features that eliminate, reduce, or mitigate consequences of potential accidents. It is expected that the emergency management actions and the size of the emergency planning zone will be adjusted to be commensurate with the level of risk posed by the plant, resulting in a risk to the public that is equal to or below current plants. The methodologies and approach proposed by NEI to define the size of the EPZ are the same as those that originally were used to set the 10 mile zone for existing plants, thus reinforcing the principle that SMR plant safety levels will meet or exceed existing plants.

5.  Doesn’t having SMRs at more sites create a higher security and proliferation risk?

The NuScale plant design builds in a number of intrinsic features that further reduce security and proliferation risks, even compared to traditional nuclear plants, which are already considered highly secure. The very resilient plant design, which is achieved through system simplification, reliance on natural phenomena for backup safety systems, and application of traditional defense-in-depth principles reduces the plant’s vulnerability to external attack or internal sabotage. Additional design features ensure that control over the nuclear fuel elements is both secure and verifiable. All safety-related equipment resides inside one robust reactor building, the majority of which is below ground and immersed in a common pool of water.

The short answer is YES!

But wouldn’t a conventional fire inside the reactor building limit your to access to the safety-related equipment? We suggest that you consider compartmentalizing the building and build it completely under ground!

The spread of radiation at Fukushima was from three hydrogen explosions which blew three reactor buildings apart. The earthquake and tsunami did little to damage the reactors. What they did do was disable almost all the electrical power needed to run the emergency systems. This lack of power hindered plant operators as they tried to take control of the overheated reactors from inside the building. What operators lacked was outside connections for emergency power, emergency cooling water, and external systems control.

For detail analysis of the Fukushima disaster see our page on Fukushima

D.  Economic Competitiveness

1.  Given the well-known economy-of-scale principle, why do you think a NuScale plant can be competitive with large plants?

Economy-of-scale can reduce unit costs for systems that are fundamentally of the same design. NuScale has chosen a different economic principle, economy-of-small, to take advantage of design simplicity that can only be achieved in small system sizes. Recent studies by the Columbia University Business School, for example, have analyzed economies of size and confirmed significant advantages to modular approaches. Many traditional plant components are eliminated and many remaining components are standard “off-the-shelf” commodities. The economic efficiencies of replication also reduce costs by allowing the manufacturer and operator to move through traditional learning processes more quickly. Collectively, we feel that all of these economies-of-small factors will allow us to be highly competitive.

It should be noted, however, that the NuScale design, and SMRs in general, extend beyond traditional large-plant markets and provide a more affordable and flexible solution for non-traditional customers located in smaller grid regions. For these customers, large amounts of power are not needed and alternative energy options are generally priced very high. In other words, a NuScale plant offers many customers a nuclear energy option where none previously existed.

Second and third world countries will be the largest market for SMRs. This should be NuScale’s target market, not the western United States. A 2009 assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projected that by 2030 there would be from 43 to 96 SMRs in operation around the world, with none of them in the USA. Developing SMRs for these markets will require a change in thinking. One cannot just recess a plant into the ground for safety, but must design it to withstand rebel artillery shelling.

2.  Won’t investors see your new design as too big of a financial risk?

A major goal for NuScale is increased affordability. This translates to lower upfront capital investment due to the smaller unit size of the modules and incremental capacity growth due to the multi-unit design of the plant. This will enable the owner to generate revenue earlier than with a single unit large plant. These same features make the plant more attractive to investors because of the lower initial commitment level and earlier return on investment. Initial discussions with the investment community support this claim—they are significantly interested in the SMR business model. In fact, the NuScale deployment model yields a total project cost that is less than the interest costs of some proposed large nuclear plant construction projects.

Increased initial affordability along with the ability to expand with an expanding economy makes NuScale’s concept ideal for developing countries.

3.  What are the “economies of small” that you advertise?

There are many contributors to the economies-of-small, most of which are not unique to NuScale and have been demonstrated in several other industries. Columbia University published an analysis titled Small Modular Infrastructure in July of 2012, highlighting many well-known industrial examples, which we expect to be captured in our deployments. For example, economy-of-small was successfully applied to the coal plant industry in the 1970-1980s, which experienced a move toward more standardized ~200 MW boilers, and the mainframe computing industry in the 1990s, which replaced large single-processor machines with arrays of small parallel processors. Some of the more significant factors include: design simplification due to smaller heat load per reactor, reduced materials due to eliminated systems and components, labor efficiencies due to the higher level of factory fabrication and replication, faster learning with respect to manufacture and operations, and higher capacity factors due to multiplicity of generating units.

 4.  You advertise factory fabrication—so what?

The value of modularization has been proven in several construction industries, including the construction of large nuclear plants. NuScale will be using this modular construction approach throughout the plant and uniquely extends this approach to modularization of the nuclear steam supply system. The entire nuclear module, including the containment vessel will be completely fabricated within a factory environment. This provides a number of advantages resulting from the favorable and controlled environment within the factory compared to on-site construction. These include: improved labor efficiency, which is estimated to result in an 8-fold decrease in labor cost compared to on-site construction labor; improved quality; improved reliability, ease of inspection, and a centralized and stable skilled workforce.

Factory fabrication is a very strong positive for SMRs.

5.  Won’t the complexities of many modules in a plant cause high operating and maintenance costs?

This would be true if the modules are small replicas of a large unit, but they are not. By designing each module with a capacity of only 160 MWt and with assured removal of the decay heat, the modules and auxiliary systems are significantly simplified with the elimination of many traditional components. For example the NuScale design contains no reactor coolant pumps (RCP’s), which are one of the more expensive, maintenance-intensive and sensitive components in many plant designs. RCP failure results in immediate plant shutdown and contributes to plant unavailability. At NuScale we eliminate this event entirely since our design relies on gravity-driven natural circulation of the coolant. This improves reliability and reduces maintenance. Also, the high level of independence of the modules, including the turbine-generator systems, helps to minimize the potential for propagation of events across modules.

Boiling water reactors (BWRs) like our Columbia Station and GE’s ABWR and ESBWR do not have or need reactor coolant pumps (RCPs). Likewise for Westinghouse’s SMR design.

Reactor pumps, both circulation and coolant, are a maintenance concern. However, they are one of the ways of controlling a reactor’s power output by changing the rate of water flowing through the core. Eliminating them from the design removes this way of reactor control.

 6.  Won’t the compact size and integral design make routine maintenance more difficult?

The compact arrangement of components in an integral reactor design does present inspection and maintenance challenges. However, standard inspection techniques are still applicable and achievable with reduced scale probes. Offsetting this challenge is the fact that the NuScale systems are significantly simplified, which will require less total maintenance effort. When maintenance is required, only the involved module will be taken off-line while the others continue to operate, thus dramatically reducing the economic impact of the maintenance. Key features such as the plant’s electrical systems are being designed to support on-line maintenance without jeopardizing worker safety and while maximizing power availability of the plant. Also, maintaining spare parts in inventory to quickly replace suspect or defective components becomes a more tractable option than for single unit large plants because of the multiplicity of modules within the plant, the standardization among modules and lower cost for module parts.

This response addresses the inspection challenges but not the maintenance challenges inside the reactor. NuScale’s illustrations only show a small access hatch to the reactors innards. What if operation causes some component to break, warp, or swell? Large reactors have small access hatches but for major operation like refueling, the whole top of the reactor vessel can be unbolted, providing complete access to its innards.

Of specific worry are the steam generators. Placing them inside the reactor is an excellent concept but steam generators have been the bane of many large nuclear plants, often failing and needing replacement decades earlier than planned. The worst example to date occurred at Units 2 and 3 of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The original steam generators failed a decade early and the replacement units manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries proved to be defective. As a result, SCE decided to permanently retire both plants and incurring a $450 to $650 million loss. We felt this incident was important enough that we gave it a page if its own. San Onofre Nuclear Station 

It seem that it is common for steam generators to spring leaks in their tubing. External generators can be opened up and the offending tube plugged. This would be a major project with the present NuScale design. 

 7.  Why do you only advertise a 12-module plant?

The NuScale design offers a truly scalable solution for customers. Plant sizes can vary from a single module up to 12 modules in a single plant, depending on the owner’s need. Further expansion can be achieved by placing multiple plants on the same site, much like traditional large unit sites. We have selected the 12-module plant as a reference design for initial licensing. This choice is driven by early customer preference, which favors a plant size of nominally 500 MWe—a very manageable size for grid stability considerations and well matched to the important market associated with the replacement of aging coal-fired power plants.

This information is contradicted by Westinghouse’s experience. Their first new generation offering was the 600 MWe AP600. It was certified by the NRC in 1999 but received no orders. Subsequently, Westinghouse expanded the design to 1000 MWe and they are now constructing eight AP1000s, four in China and four in the US. China is now working with Westinghouse-Toshiba to develop larger versions of the AP1000 (the AP1400 & AP1600 of which China will have full ownership of intellectual rights) to fulfill China plan to build 400 nuclear plants by 2040.

As for their new SMR offering, Westinghouse opted for a 225 MWe design. However, in February 2014, Westinghouse announced that would slow development because they needed customers for 30 units or government financing to proceed and they have neither.

8.  Does the elimination of primary pumps cause the NuScale plant to be less efficient and increase the cost of generated electricity?

NuScale decided to eliminate primary coolant pumps and supporting equipment by relying instead on gravity-driven natural circulation of the coolant. The potential loss of efficiency due to a lower coolant flow rate is compensated for by increasing tube surface area in the steam generator to achieve the same heat removal rate. We do this by using a compact helical coil steam generator with a very large surface area within a compact fluid volume.

Also, the NuScale steam generators produce significant steam superheat, which improves thermal efficiency and eliminates moisture separator, dryer and reheater equipment. Full scale testing in prototypical helical coils confirms both the heat transfer and superheat performance of our design. Hence, we expect a power conversion efficiency similar to existing plants and an overall cost savings from the elimination of several components and associated maintenance demands.

As we noted above, reactor pumps, both circulation and coolant, are a maintenance concern. However, they are one of the ways of controlling reactor power by changing the rate of water flowing through the core. Eliminating them in the design removes this way of reactor control.

 9.  What about the nuclear waste problem—won’t NuScale make it worse?

First, it is important maintain a proper perspective: the “nuclear waste problem” is a political stalemate, not a technical issue. Secondly, the amount of nuclear waste produced in a nuclear plant is dwarfed by the voluminous waste produced from most other energy technologies. The good news about nuclear waste produced in a NuScale plant is that it is exactly the same as most of the other 440 nuclear plants operating world-wide; hence, we know a lot about its characteristics and how to treat it. Specifically, we know very accurately the composition of the discharged fuel, the radiation hazard, the rate of decay of the self-generated heat, and its amenability to recycling, should the U.S. decided to embark on this path similar to other major nuclear energy countries.

This is a very good description of the real nuclear waste problem!

We have given the GE-Hitachi PRISM a page of its own as we believe is the best, most developed Generation IV design and it should be promoted as part of Energize Northwest’s effort to reduce global warming emissions.  The PRISM is unique in that it can use the spent fuel from our present light water reactors as fuel and burn up the extremely radioactive transuranics they contain. This has resulted in the media describing the PRISM as the reactor that “eats” nuclear waste.

10.  Is the increase in installed wind and solar capacity a threat to NuScale market share?

Similar to all nuclear power plants, a NuScale plant can provide abundant, predictable power on a continuous basis. Most energy-intensive industries, and even the collective population, require huge amounts of predictable energy. Increasing penetration of wind and solar-generated electricity will in fact require an increasing amount of stable, dispatchable electricity such as from a NuScale plant.

Not only can NuScale plants and renewables co-exist on the same grid, they are actually synergistic. Each NuScale module uses relatively small turbine-generator equipment compared to large plants, which affords extra “agility” in responding to the intermittency of wind and solar generation. Load-following can be accomplished with NuScale Power Modules to accommodate changes in available intermittent sources. Also, the multi-module nature of a NuScale plants allow for modules to be taken completely offline during sustained output from wind or solar farms. Finally, the operational flexibilities provided by the multi-module plant design allow a NuScale plant to be easily integrated into hybrid energy systems that can maximize the output of both the renewable and nuclear generators by “load switching” among multiple energy-consuming product streams.

Being able to deal with the variability of wind power is good. However, wind generates at about 30% capacity. If a modular plant were to complement wind, the operators can expect 30% less revenue compare to using the SMR by itself.

In addition, the decades of experience developed with commercial power reactor has been from plants usually operating at full power. It will take several years of testing with rapid rates of power change to be sure any new design can complement wind power.

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