With the post on Monday February 25th 2008 logging so much traffic both regular visitors and new folks I will list and lightly discuss some of the potentates in the fission reactor field. Links where available are included, offering a succinct guide to quick information.

Reactors are considered by their “Generation” starting with the Gen I from the 1950s and 60s of which there are no operating units other than in the U.K. Gen II is the largest group consisting of the present fleet in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world except some famously odd designs in the Russian Federation. Gen III and Gen III+ are the “advanced reactors” with some already commissioned in Japan and others under construction or set for order. Gen IV is in the design stage and might be a decade out before the designs could be operational.

The working reactors today have their technological roots in the efforts for nuclear ship reactors. The safety and reliability aspects of these designs are well known, with the only glitch the Three Mile Island event that produced no damaging external effect. The Chernobyl design was essentially a huge error in design judgment that started a chain of errors in operational judgment leading to the meltdown. For our purposes, the Chernobyl design is not applicable or similar enough for comparison or inclusion. The Russian Federation has responded with honorable efforts to catch up and lead in safe and reliable designs.

Today North American, Japanese, European, Russian and South African designs compete over about a dozen similar Gen III+ designs that are in advanced stages with some still in research and development. These reactors offer:

  • Standard designs for each type to solve the difficult licensing process costs, reduce the capital investment and cut construction time.
  • Higher fuel burnups that reduce the total fuel required and the spent fuel remaining.
  • Burnable “absorbers” that extend fuel life.
  • They are simpler and tougher making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to operational problems.
  • Improved online time (% of time operating vs. % of time down for maintenance and fueling) and overall life expectancy – 60 years or better.
  • Reductions in possible paths to meltdown.
  • Minimized environmental impacts.

What is significant about the next generation of reactors is the experience that improved the designs. “Safety” what the people near to a reactor expect in risk has been addressed in design with inherent or passive features that remove the need for active or intervention commands. These designs stay in a “safe” configuration without operator intervention and when service or operating function power is lost. The designs also are equipped with redundant systems. The passive designs depend on physical phenomena such as convection, gravity, resistance to high temperature rather than the engineering or operation of a component. They are quite different from the current reactors.

The reactors are larger, usually involve international collaboration, certifications are increasingly done on a national basis and in Europe across the full EU. The designs that have completed the certified for the EU requirements include the Westinghouse AP1000 and BWR 90, Areva’s EPR and SWR-1000, GE’s ABWR and the Gidropress AES-92.

In the U.S. Issued Design Certifications have been given to GE’s ABWR (Advanced Boiling Water Reactor), and three Westinghouse designs, the System 80+, AP 600 and AP 1000. Reviews in process include the Areva U.S.EPR, Mitsubishi’s version of APWR (Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor), and amended AP 1000 from Westinghouse and the new GE ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor).

The U.S. offers a “pre-application” review that gets discussion started earlier in the design stage. This process includes public meetings working on three points.

  1. Major safety issues that could require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue policy guidance to staff,
  2. The major technical issues that the staff resolve under existing regulations or NRC policy and
  3. The research needed to resolve identified concerns. The current applicants are Atomic Energy of Canada’s ACR-700, Westinghouse’s IRIS and the PBMR (Pebble Bed Modular Reactor).

In the longer term, the NRC expects to focus on the Very High Temperature Nuclear Plant from among the Gen IV designs.

While all of this seems really informative there are some obvious questions. Foremost is the appalling slow pace. There are lots of responsible parties for that ranging from local and national special interest groups who leave no possible roadblocks out to delay or stop an installation. Local, state and other regulatory groups who propose they have some expertise that must be satisfied causing great time loss and expense. Plus legal actions that are used to delay, reporting to prepare, and an incredible list of things that need done to satisfy suspicions and demands. It’s commonly understood that the interest costs of investment is the single largest expense in construction of an atomic electrical generating station. It’s hard to imagine it could get worse for customers and stockholders.

It may seem grim but there are glimmers of hope for better results. Its suggested that some possibilities exist to cut construction costs by as much as half and to reduce fueling by fourfold as soon as 2015 to 2020. China ordered four Westinghouse AP 1000s, which should kick off a reduction in per plant costs, but the manufacturing capacity at Westinghouse might limit the benefit. South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor is expected to offer a new step in safety, economics and proliferation resistance.

Today the leader must be the Westinghouse AP 1000 with several design certifications in hand now. The design offers the lowest installed cost projections of the current group at $1200 per kilowatt and a 36-month construction schedule. Those numbers would put power on the grid below US$0.035/kWh. That’s cheap power.

While there is a lot on this page there is much more to come over the coming years. I hope that Monday’s post is helpful in assisting others to accept and enjoy the benefits of fission fueled electrical power.

Current Reactors on the Market


5 Comments so far

  1. Al Fin on February 28, 2008 8:15 AM

    Nice Summary, and nice recent set of articles on nuclear.

    The biggest problem with nuclear energy right now is all the powerful special interests who exaggerate the problems with nuclear energy–for their own particular reasons.

  2. Ernestjt on March 26, 2008 3:53 PM

    Interesting text.., guy

  3. Janelletp on April 5, 2008 5:27 PM

    Cool text.., dude

  4. fueling station nuclear plant on May 25, 2008 7:55 AM

    […] in the fission reactor field. Links where available are included, offering a succinct guide to qhttps://newenergyandfuel.com/http:/newenergyandfuel/com/2008/02/28/the-choices-in-atomic-fission/Fueling Station tampabay.com – St. Petersburg Times and tbt*I will grant that building the first new […]

  5. aerospace engineering on November 8, 2010 10:07 AM

    What a great resource!

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