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Serious obstacles to any development of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

Small-modular-reactor-dudThe Next Nuclear Reactor May Arrive Hauled by a Truck NYT By MATTHEW L. WALD  April 24, 2013 WASHINGTON “…….The Obama administration, with nuclear power aims that have received less attention than its alternative energy initiatives, began a five-year program to develop reactors in 2012, planning to spend $452 million.

The budget outlook for the final three years is uncertain, but the incoming energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, speaking at his confirmation hearing on April 9, said of small modular reactors: “I think that it’s a very promising direction that we need to pursue. It’s where the most innovation is going on in nuclear energy.”

But new approaches to nuclear power have been forecast far more often than they have been realized, and some worry that small modular reactors could fall into that category. Joyce L. Connery, an Energy Department nuclear expert assigned to the National Security Council, remarked at a nuclear power conference in March, “I hope that soon we populate the world with S.M.R.’s as much as we populate the world with conferences about S.M.R.’s.”

The economics may still be challenging even if the price tag is smaller, she said. …. the environment for nuclear energy is not so great right now,” she told a gathering of several hundred experts organized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Cheap natural gas in North America and global political fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan are not helping, experts say.

And the regulatory structure is not so great for small reactors. Regulatory commission rules for control-room staff levels, emergency planning zones and security are all predicated on large, aboveground reactors. A small one built mostly underground might logically have smaller requirements, but a potential buyer would be reluctant to build one under the current regulatory regime, experts say.

Also, small reactors still face serious scrutiny for safety. David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the nice thing about reactors that existed only on paper was that the worst damage risk is paper cuts; their weaknesses do not become evident until the design or construction is further along…..


April 25, 2013 - Posted by | technology, USA

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