The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is 35 years old.   Over those 35 years the NRC has not certified any new reactor types.  Not One.  Today, only four designs can be referenced for applications to build and operate a nuclear power plant.  They are:

1.  Advanced Boiling Water Reactor design by GE Nuclear Energy last updated May 1997;
2.  System 80+ design by Westinghouse (formerly ABB-Combustion Engineering) last updated May 1997;
3.  AP600 design by Westinghouse last updated December 1999; and
4.  AP1000 design by Westinghouse last updated January 2006.

These are the four remaining designs approved by the NRC’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, which had approved others that have since fallen from favor.

Nuclear Regulatory Commision HQ Bethesda Maryland. Click image for the largest view.

With this in mind you must admire the sheer fortitude of a small group of determined industrialists willing to take extreme uncertain risk in plans to offer technology now at least 35 years newer, more efficient, and if the government would act in the public interest – lower costs for consumer’s kilo watt hours.  Quite a dream.

In the face of a hard fact – never having approved a design – the U.S. trusts that the NRC will determine the appropriateness of allowing new designs to be built.  That’s a concept that almost makes the mind swim in the brain.  Meanwhile the enabling law has required fees such that one major barrier to development is simply paying for the NRC to research and self educate to a point that it believes it can make a determination.

If that isn’t rife with most any conflict imaginable from personal bias to raw misinterpretation, then remember expertise isn’t in the NRC at all.  It has to be gathered and judged, a process paid for by the applicant. Mind you – its never been done.  That’s enough to make an American consumer quite anxious if not fully disgusted.  In fairness the statute was devised in the mid 1970s, when mutually assured destruction, runaway reactors and other hysterical views had credence in the media.

“Never say die!” is the call from a few brave and wealthy.  Seven ‘advanced reactors’ are under pre-certification review by the NRC. Some of these groups have the technical skills and capital depth to perhaps get to the point where a customer might get some power.  They are:

1.  International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS) – Westinghouse Electric Company.
2.  NuScale – NuScale Power, Inc.
3.  Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) – PBMR (Pty.), Ltd.
4.  Super-Safe, Small and Simple (4S) – Toshiba Corporation
5.  Hyperion – Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. (A new improved website.)
6.  Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) – GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
7.  mPower – Babcock and Wilcox Company.

On the list are some strong contenders.  Westinghouse, Toshiba, GE Hitachi and Babcock and Wilcox certainly have the wherewithal if the huge amount of time involved doesn’t put the potential buyers off for indeterminate periods.  There are massive risks involved, both in cash outlay as well as reputations in a world wide competitive industry.

But the most exciting, NuScale and Hyperion are small firms with outstanding technology, which must also overcome the gauntlet.  If the cash runs out before the bureaucrats get up to speed, what might be the most promising and solid technology in generations could be lost.  Or lost to foreign competition.   It’s enough to make an American cringe in shame.

Not a wit exists in the Washington D.C. political establishment on getting a statutory fix underway.  Instead, with no particular surprise, the hands are out and the political class is answering with guarantees and other ‘incentive’ ideas.  There doesn’t seem to be any concern for the rate paying American.  Abundant power at low cost has been lost to raw governmental incompetence and supported by new ideas that solve no problems but insert a whole new rent seeking class arrayed against taxpayers and ratepayers.

Does this seem right to you?

Suppose for a moment that government’s role is to insure the public safety and set market standards that drive to the lowest cost and highest productivity.  Yet, public safety has been kidnapped by extremists and market standards have been subverted by regulations that increase investment and operating costs.

The potential of American society to reach a higher standard of living, pass on a better world to our children than was left to us is being squandered.  Massive natural resources are simply ignored like thorium-fueled reactors and the existing ‘nuclear waste’ sitting at reactors across America.

America and the world have no energy crisis.  Its everywhere and more comes with each ray of sunshine, its below our feet for the taking and using, many components can be recycled endlessly in harmony with the ecosystems of the earth.

We only have to figure out how, invest and do the work.  The single most devastating problem is government, a creature that seems incapable of getting out of the way, acting in the public interest or promoting a higher standard of living.

At least, lets remind the elected that the job is to serve the citizens, not satisfy extremists, set up new rent seekers or endlessly suffocate technological progress.


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