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Following Transatomic’s failure, small modular nuclear reactors face uncertain future

Is it worth spending $millions on a nuclear technology whose only real purpose is to train nuclear technologists?

A good announcement and a bad announcement for two nuclear-energy startups,NuScale Power takes a step toward engineering; Transatomic power shuts down. Ars Technica, MEGAN GEUSS – 9/26/2018  “…………….The old light-water reactors that serve America’s grid today create nuclear waste that’s politically impossible to dispose of. Nuclear plants with traditional reactors are also extremely expensive to build and difficult to permit.

For these reasons, many nuclear hopefuls have looked to advanced nuclear technology. Several startups have popped up, promising to make either the waste problem or the expense problem go away.

This week, two advanced nuclear-technology startups have announced major news, both good and bad for the future of advanced nuclear technology………..

 Transatomic is going to close down, according to MIT Technology Review. Several years ago, the startup raised millions on promises to use spent nuclear waste as reactor fuel, as well as to “generate electricity 75 times more efficiently than conventional light-water reactors,” according to MIT Technology Review. The company later retracted that “75 times” claim after a review from MIT’s Nuclear Engineering Department found issue with it.

Instead, Transatomic revised its estimates in 2016 to say that its reactor would be able to generate more than two times as much energy per ton of mined uranium than a standard reactor.

The company’s design to use spent nuclear-reactor fuel in a molten salt reactor was also called into question, causing Transatomic to state in its 2016 revision that its design “does not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel.”

The lost confidence made it harder for Transatomic to find funding to complete the $15 million it needed to build a prototype reactor, although it had raised about $4 million already……..

Onward to manufacturing

NuScale Power, based out of Portland, Oregon issued a press release today saying that, after 18 months of searching, it has selected manufacturing company BWX Technologies to begin engineering work that will lead to manufacturing the company’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) design.

Phase 1 engineering and manufacturing begins today and will last until 2020, NuScale wrote, and then Phases 2 and 3—”preparing for fabrication” and “fabrication,” respectively—will continue from there……..

Small Modular Reactors don’t solve the nuclear-waste problem mentioned at the top of this article, but in theory, they might solve nuclear energy’s expense problem. Building smaller reactors that can be modularly expanded if necessary could not only keep siting, construction, and regulatory costs proportionally lower, but using the same manufacturing and construction crews to build more, smaller reactors would theoretically develop a workforce with expertise in building and installing reactors. https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/09/a-good-announcement-and-a-bad-announcement-for-two-nuclear-energy-startups/

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September 28, 2018 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA

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