Is smaller better for nuclear power plants?

Nuclear power plants 1/10 the size of current utility-scale plants may become reality some years from now. Faster construction, modular design, and easier financing are behind their development

08/30/2010


Small nuclear power plants are not new. After all, the pioneer commercial reactors were small units, along with generations of nuclear reactors successfully applied in naval vessels. Conditions may now be favorable to build advanced nuclear power plants with one-tenth the output power of current utility-scale plants—and even physically smaller in overall size.

During my direct involvement in nuclear power plant design and development more than 30 years ago, those of us advocating smaller-scale plants were not popular with management or fully in-synch with prevailing market conditions. At that time, only large plant construction was on the radar screen of economics. Financing of capital projects also lived in a different world. Now, nuclear plant design with “smaller is better” in mind may have a chance to become reality. Benefits of small nuclear reactors are seen as:

  • Faster plant construction with smaller, less complex reactor systems;
  • Modular plant design, enabling simpler replication of multiple units;
  • Real scalability of plant output to current power needs, and easier add-on of  units as demand increases;
  • Simpler design, such as integrated reactor core and steam generator, less complex shutdown procedures; and
  • Easier financing with less total cost involved.

Nuclear power has its share of opponents, extending to any new developments. In their view, downside of smaller plant design includes:

  • Nuclear material and spent fuel dispersed to more sites;
  • Safety: more potential terrorist targets (and possible plant sitings near urban areas); and
  • Concern about overall cost of electricity generation.

These issues require proper resolution and assurance of being preventable to the most practicable degree. An emotional decision should not be the basis to turn away from a promising technology.

Numerous designs, developers

A significant number of companies worldwide are developing small nuclear plants of new, advanced design with intent to commercialize them.

One U.S. developer—Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy Inc.—refers to its technology as the “world’s first advanced generation III” small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear plant and carries the catchy trademark name of “mPower.” To streamline production and lower project costs, the pressurized water reactor (PWR) rated for 125 megawatt electric (MWe) output would be factory built and transported to the plant site via barge or rail.

mPower’s design calls for burying the reactor and its containment dome below ground. Its spent fuel is to be stored onsite under water for the full 60-year design life of the reactor. Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) envisions initial SMR sitings at existing nuclear plant sites with space for future expansion and where obtaining a permit would be simpler. B&W intends to request certification of mPower from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2011 and projects first units going online after 2018.

Among other current small reactor designs are NuScale Power Inc.’s 45 MWe modules, 12 of which would be integrated to form a standard plant, and IRIS, a 100-335 MWe system from a group of companies led by Westinghouse (a unit of Toshiba Corp.). Both offerings are PWR designs.

NRC’s current licensing agenda focuses on new large-scale nuclear reactors—thus pending applications for “mini” nuclear plants will be considered later. However, with their shorter construction period, downsized nuclear power plants could be operating in about the same time frame as their new giant cousins.

For more on small nuclear plant designs, visit

www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html;

www.babcock.com/products/modular_nuclear/;

www.nuscalepower.com; and

www.westinghousenuclear.com.

Frank J. Bartos, P.E., is a Control Engineering consulting editor. Reach him at braunbart@sbcglobal.net.

Also read, from Control Engineering:

Advancing Technology: 'American Idle' - Nuclear Power



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.