At this moment NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor is leading the U.S. field of nuclear power sets that are smaller, modular and less expensive to install.  Nuclear fission’s major stumbling block is the huge investment needed to put a plant into operation.  The total dollars now runs in the billions for a custom designed, large nuclear reactor with all the safety issues involved.

NuScale comes at this very differently.  The reactor is less than half the size, its buried into the ground and the ‘dangerous’ cooling system relies on nature instead of complex engineering to remove the heat – canceling the dangerous meltdown potential that so frightened the ill informed at Three Mile Island and in fact got away from the operators at Chernobyl.

NuScale Reactor and Generator Side View. Click image for the largest view.

The lessons are surely learned by now for most – atomic fission is viable and valuable both from an investment point of view and the ratepayers’ ability to afford the energy when the designs get optimized from those two lessons.  Let the certain immutable laws of physics solve your problem and take out the risks and exploit the advantage downsizing offers for those construction costs.  Ratepayers and environmentalists alike should be joyful at the relief and the steady power that nuclear can deliver.

NuScale is a creature whose technology came out of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded research for the development of a small nuclear power plant that might be used in multiple applications. The Idaho National Environment & Engineering Laboratory (INEEL) led the project with support from Oregon State University (OSU). At the same time, OSU was gaining international recognition for its work in the development of passive safety systems that use natural circulation to provide cooling for nuclear plants.

NuScale Reactor and Generator Block Diagram. Click image for the largest view.

OSU built and operated a scale model or replica of a 1000 mw and a 600 mw nuclear steam supply system to help the developer obtain US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Design Certification for those technologies.  A significant part of the information to obtain a certification is already in hand.

OSU scientists at the end of the DOE funding continued to pursue the design of a small nuclear plant that used natural circulation. 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.  Barely three years later NuScale is at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) working up an application.

OSUs One Third Scale Reactor Test Rig. Click Image for the largest view.

Increasing the competitiveness Kiewit Constructors, an engineering and construction company with wide experience in power generation facilities, joined NuScale as a strategic partner in early 2008. Kiewit is developing the plans for modular manufacturing and construction of NuScale power plants.

The timeline is short but covers a lot of ground since 2007.  The patents were filed, Kiewit joins in, and initial pre-application reviews took place at the NRC.  Of great significance NuScale and Kiewit engineers complete a detailed preliminary plant design and cost study, which validates the plant’s scalable design relying on current nuclear industry standards. Conclusion: the design is economical and can be built expeditiously. This is from a major international construction firm that knows how to make money.

This year saw the NRC inform NuScale that, “Resources have been allocated to develop the infrastructure within the NRC that will support the NRC staff’s review of your application in a timeframe consistent with your proposed design certification submittal.”

NuScale has completed four pre-application meetings with the NRC to familiarize staff with the features of a multi-module plant. It was determined that the plant falls within the existing regulatory framework for light water reactors.  The current plan is to use conventional uranium fuel.

Which is not to say thorium is to be counted out.  Brian Wang at NextBigFuture turned up a pdf file of NuScale’s Dr. Paul Lorenzi discussing the new reactor on August 30th 2010 and offers than thorium is a viable fuel.  Whether or not the reactor shell can be easily converted to use a thorium reactor isn’t discussed, but in reality uranium fuel is available now and thorium has a long road to a fuel production industry.

NuScale plant designs are compact. Each component is modular and is designed for fabrication off-site at numerous existing facilities in the USA and around the world. Construction is less complex, lead times shorter, and costs more predictable and controllable. The NuScale containment and reactor vessel measures approximately 60 feet in length and 14 feet in diameter. It and all other modular components are transportable by barge, truck or rail.  Virtually everything involved comes from existing off the shelf components.  Reactors can be added as needed.

These are likely to much less expensive and when competition gets going even less expensive still.

Nuclear is looking better and better.  Once the NRC gets it together and approves the certification, things could move pretty fast both for NuScale and their competitors.  A race to the lowest cost provider, attention to thorium fuels, and more demand for transport charging could lead to a great industry that energizes economic growth both in the U.S. and in other counties as well.


8 Comments so far

  1. Ramberg Media Group - The News Platform on September 17, 2010 6:12 AM

    Puget Sound New Energy Solutions Coordinating “Get Plug-in Ready—Now!”…

    We loved your article, so we included it over at RMG, since we found our readers might find your site of interest….

  2. Kurt Karapetian on October 19, 2010 4:16 PM

    Very helpful website. Thanks, finally a decent website with good information in it.

  3. educational grants on November 7, 2010 9:41 PM

    Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

  4. Prostate Gland Problems on November 8, 2010 8:35 AM

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  5. James M Despain on December 29, 2010 7:16 PM

    Thanks for the great post. Page Bookmarked

  6. World Spinner on January 20, 2011 5:44 PM

    The NuScale Reactor Gets Closer to Production | New Energy and Fuel…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  7. tokyojoe on March 23, 2011 9:41 AM

    take your reactors and shove ’em

  8. concrete rainwater tank on January 13, 2012 9:33 PM

    This really is great content. Many thanks for this. I put it on my website where you can also find latest video game and technology news and reviews . I linked returning to your site and bookmarked it so I can see your new posts.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind