Posts Tagged SMRs

Engineers echo politicians: SMRs could help the UK post-Brexit

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on May 11th, 2017

Following the recent publication of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee’s report on the nuclear industry post-Brexit, the Institution for Mechanical Engineers have echoed their findings. In a report published last week (Leaving the EU, the Euratom Treaty Part 2: A Framework for the Future) the Institution argues that small modular reactors could be the key to securing the UK’s nuclear future post-Brexit.

The risks to the UK nuclear industry post-Brexit are well known, with leaving Euratom a particular concern that could damage nuclear innovation, as well as risk fuel supply and confuse regulation. The Institution’s report suggests some paths the UK Government could take to tackle this key issue Brexit poses. For instance, they recommend developing a UK Safeguarding Office to conform to international rules, as there is no fall back to Euratom in a no-deal scenario. This would cover regulation of safety and non-proliferation. In the Institution’s (and in Weinberg’s) view, the UK would ideally seek associate membership of Euratom to continue research and development cooperation.

This research and development commitment is key, with the Institution’s argument in this report being that Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) could be the sector that secures the nuclear industry’s success post-Brexit. As such they recommend pursuing the currently delayed SMR competition, opportunities for demonstration and commercialisation, and collaboration with devolved and local government to ensure sites are developed. The report mentions Trawsfynydd in Wales as one such option for development.

Jenifer Baxter, the Institution’s head of energy and environment and lead author of the report, said “The UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be complicated and difficult, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology.”

Weinberg Next Nuclear believe the Government should take very seriously the reports from the BEIS Select Committee and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and make the production of a nuclear strategy plan a priority. Brexit poses many risks to the UK nuclear industry and it is essential that these be managed to allow the UK’s nuclear sector to thrive again.


Weinberg Next Nuclear has been working closely with new reactor designers and finding out about the different innovations that companies are developing to provide a low carbon energy future. As part of this, our director, Stephen Tindale, recently interviewed the Co-Founder of Moltex Energy, Ian Scott, about their Stable Salt Reactor design. Ian talks about how he came up with this design from the work done by Alvin Weinberg decades earlier, and the benefits that come with this new design.

This interview is part of our current work on a report entitled “How Nuclear Innovation Should be Delivered”. The report has generously been sponsored by three Nuclear companies: Terrestrial Energy, Moltex Energy and URENCO on behalf of their reactor design, U-Battery. This project specific funding allows us resources to research and publish papers that we hope will have significant influence on the future success of the nuclear industry. Vital as this funding is to our work, we are careful to ensure it does not limit our objectivity and balanced view of the industry. Weinberg Next Nuclear retains editorial control and does not lobby for any particular company’s design. We are in agreement with our sponsors that nuclear power is vital for a sustainable future and we will continue to work together to achieve the changes necessary to achieve it.

In February, some of the Weinberg Next Nuclear Team travelled to Canada to learn more about the exciting developments that Canada is achieving in advanced nuclear. In this series of videos, Weinberg Next Nuclear’s director Stephen Tindale interviews Terrestrial Energy’s director Simon Irish in Tornoto about his reasons for joining the nuclear industry, opinions on the molten salt reactor design and views on the future of nuclear power. 

The Canadian trip and interviews are part of our current work on a report entitled “How Nuclear Innovation Should be Delivered”. The report has generously been sponsored by three Nuclear companies: Terrestrial Energy, Moltex Energy and URENCO on behalf of their U-Battery design. This project specific funding allows us resources to research and publish papers that we hope will have significant influence on the future success of the nuclear industry. Vital as this funding is to our work, we are careful to ensure it does not limit our objectivity and balanced view of the industry. Weinberg Next Nuclear retains editorial control and does not lobby for any particular company’s design. We are in agreement with our sponsors that nuclear power is vital for a sustainable future and we will continue to work together to achieve the changes necessary to achieve it.

Hinkley point and the nuclear debate

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on January 28th, 2016

On Wednesday, the news arrived that a decision on constructing a European Pressurised reactor at Hinkley point has been delayed, again. The board of EDF was supposed to meet to make a final decision, but the meeting was delayed due to further concerns over funding.

The delay was debated on Newsnight by the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Sir Ed Davey and Green peer Jenny Jones. Baroness Jones argued that Hinkley would be the most expensive power plant on earth and nuclear is not a solution but a problem. Ed Davey countered that nuclear is cheaper than lots of renewables and very good value if compared with the cost of the pollution from gas and coal.

With the news of today, it is understandable for nuclear’s credentials to be called into debate. However, it is important to note that Hinkley is not the whole of the UK’s nuclear programme. There are two other large nuclear reactor proposals undergoing regulatory assessment: an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) at Wylfa and an AP1000 at Moorside. In addition, there are many academic research programmes ongoing across the country, with new developments soon to follow the Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement in November of £250 million R&D funding for small modular reactors and advanced nuclear. Thus even if Hinkley continues to be delayed, nuclear can still make progress.

It is also important to remember why nuclear should be pursued. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s recent report argued the necessity for nuclear as part of a portfolio of low-carbon energy technologies. The presenter on Newsnight, Evan Davis, picked holes in Jenny Jones’s anti-nuclear plan, asking about providing all current electricity without nuclear as well as heat and automobiles and criticising her ideas to run the UK on food waste and to continue the use of gas (a fossil fuel). As Ed Davey said, “if you are concerned about climate change, you should not take a low carbon energy off the table”.

The policy editor of Newsnight Chris Cook, had said in a film before the discussion that there are three key objectives of UK energy policy. The first is to make sure there is enough electricity to meet demand, even if demand increases as it is expected to do in the coming decades. The second is to decarbonise the energy sector and the third is to achieve the first two objectives without unnecessarily increasing bills. To do this, we need a diverse supply of low-carbon energy, an “all of the above” approach or as Ed Davey said, “all low carbon options on the table”.

Weinberg Next Nuclear do not believe that nuclear should be pursued at any cost. An EPR at Hinkley may or may not be a good investment but if the expected price continues to rise, it is probably not a good investment. But that is not a reason to oppose all types of nuclear reactors. The ABWR and AP1000 are more straightforward reactor designs, so would be cheaper to construct and Generation IV reactors and Small Modular Reactors will very probably be cheaper still. Thus there are many other options to pursue, and they need to be pursued in order to contribute to a sustainable, low carbon future.

Advanced nuclear initiatives in the UK

Posted by Stephen Tindale on December 18th, 2015

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently looking at the potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the UK, and the opportunities for the country to be a leader in this field. An SMR uses a series of small reactor cores, or modules, where the total reactor power output is the sum of the outputs from all of the small reactor modules. Because these reactors are modular, they can be prefabricated and easily transported, reducing many of the costs involved in construction. This means SMRs provide scale but cost less to build and can be built more quickly and easily. They are therefore a popular development in nuclear energy because of the combination of tried and tested design aspects in innovative configurations.


The techno-economic assessment, commissioned earlier this year by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is considering a number of SMR designs, from both the UK and around the world. It is examining the benefits of these designs and how they could contribute to the UKs energy market, as well as the new industries that the development of these new reactors would support.


This comes alongside the announcement, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, of £250 million over five years dedicated to nuclear research and development, something that Weinberg Next Nuclear has been advocating. We are extremely pleased with this outcome, as these two government initiatives signal a promising commitment to advanced nuclear technologies in the UK. Although the announcement itself highlighted SMRs as a key technology development, there is clear potential for some of the £250 million to be spent on other advanced reactor designs.


This review of SMRs follows a previous feasibility study by the National Nuclear Laboratory, sponsored by the government, which indicated a clear market potential for these reactors and deployment within a ten-year timeframe. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that many of these designs could be safer because of their innovative use of passive safety systems and rolling maintenance programmes, made viable because of the modular design. SMRs will also be a lot more flexible, allowing them to be utilised in a number of ways other than just grid electricity, including heating and hydrogen production.


The designs being assessed are extremely varied, from smaller versions of classic light water reactors to modular forms of generation IV reactors, including molten salt designs. This means that the study is able to highlight advanced reactor designs that have potential in a full-size configuration as well as in modular form. The call for evidence from designers closed at the end of November; independent assessors are expected to produce a full review by spring 2016.


Weinberg Next Nuclear’s top priority for 2016 will be to ensure that the £250 million over five years is used to greatest effect. This study of SMR technology gives us a good entry point to the decision-making process. The government has not yet clarified how the nuclear innovation money will be spent; much will go on SMRs, but not all. Therefore, it will be our role to convince policy-makers of the potential of advanced nuclear designs, large and small.


Our November report was on why nuclear innovation is needed. We are now working on a report – due to be published in March – on how innovation should be supported in the UK. The review of Small Modular Reactors and the £250 million available funding will be central to our recommendations.



NuScale OnTruck ChenectedAichieOrg

Alternative nuclear rolled ahead a bit this week, as the U.S. DOE agreed to fund NuScale’s small modular reactor, transportable on the back of a truck.

The U.S. Department of Energy has taken another “small” step toward shaking the nuclear industry out of its uninventive ways and towards innovative reactors that augur lower costs and improved operations and safety for a low CO2 future: It has granted up to $226 million in funding to an Oregon startup that is developing a “small modular reactor.”

The award to Corvallis, Oregon-based NuScale Power marks the second tranche of a $452 million program that DOE announced in March 2012. It comes a year after DOE’s first grant to North Carolina-based Babcock & Wilcox. That grant was reported at up to $225 million at the time, although DOE told me today that it has so far committed $101 million to the five-year B&W project through March 2014 and that it is currently reviewing the release of additional funds.

“Small modular reactors represent a new generation of safe, reliable, low-carbon nuclear energy technology,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in announcing the award to NuScale. “The Energy Department is committed to strengthening nuclear energy’s continuing important role in America’s low carbon future.”


Like B&W, the NuScale design calls for a scaled-down conventional reactor, fueled by solid uranium, cooled by ordinary water and operated in a pressurized environment. By virtue of its smaller size, the NuScale “Integral Pressurized Water Reactor” (IPWR) portends lower costs because in principle it could be factory-built in more of an assembly line manner than could large conventional reactors; the idea is to ship them to a site via truck, rail or barge for final assembly. The “integral” design fits a reactor and a steam generator in an 80-foot by 15-foot cylinder.

The small size would also allow users such as utilities to purchase new reactors in less expensive increments rather than paying billions of dollars up front for conventionally sized reactors, which reach well over a gigawatt in electrical capacity. At 45 megawatts electric, the NuScale reactor provides about 3 percent the output of a 1.3-GW reactor. NuScale’s “modular” design permits up to 12 of the pressurized water reactors in a plant, for a total capacity of 540 MW.

NuScale, founded in 2007, has designed the IPWR to sit underground, thus protecting it from attack. The IPWR deploys a “passive cooling” system that would release a pool of water from above the reactor in the event of an emergency, rather than rely on pumps to circulate water (failed auxiliary electricity systems knocked out cooling at Japan’s Fukushima reactor, leading to meltdowns there).


NuScale partner Energy Northwest, a Richland, Wash. company that produces power for utilities, said that NuScale could develop a commercial six-to-12-reactor plant on the site of Idaho National Laboratory by 2024, which Energy Northwest would have the right to operate. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a cooperative of government entities that pools electrical power resources, is also part of the scheme.

U.K. engineering stalwart Rolls Royce is also part of the NuScale small modular project. NuScale is majority owned by $27.6 billion engineering company Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

The presence of several companies in the NuScale project echoes the B&W small modular reactor venture which won the first tranche of DOE’s $452 million in SMR funding. B&W is working with U.S. construction firm Bechtel, and with federal power provider Tennessee Valley Authority. They hope to deploy four 180-MW reactors at TVA’s Clinch River, Tennessee site, via a joint venture called Generation mPower that is 90 percent owned by B&W and 10 percent by Bechtel.

That project took a peculiar turn recently, when B&W said it plans to sell 70 percent of its interest in mPower – including intellectual property.

A DOE spokeswoman said that DOE has so far committed $101 million to B&W through March, 2014. Possible further funding is currently under review, she said. B&W’s five-year federal funding period began in December, 2012. If DOE released more funds, the total would not exceed $226 million, the same five-year cap on the NuScale funding, which runs through Dec. 2018. In both cases, DOE would also be limited to funding no more than half of project costs, the spokeswoman said. She added that there will be no more grants under the $452 million Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).


While the DOE grant helps to push U.S. nuclear in a new direction of smaller and less expensive reactors, it stopped short of endorsing altogether new reactor designs that would support much higher operating temperatures.

These so-called “fourth generation reactors” include liquid fuel reactors known as molten salt reactors, as well as solid fuel reactors using “pebble bed” and “prismatic” fuel structures rather than conventional rods.  They would provide many additional advantages. For instance, they typically operate in unpressurized environments, which is a safety benefit over today’s pressurized reactors. They tend to leave less long-lived waste.

At higher temperatures they also generate electricity more efficiently, which lowers generating costs and would help nuclear compete in a market where natural gas prices are currently low. Unlike natural gas generation, nuclear power generation is carbon free, and the nuclear lifecycle is low-carbon.

And as Secretary Moniz himself noted last month, high temperature reactors could serve as sources of low-carbon heat for industrial processes and thus expand nuclear power beyond its role of generating electricity.

A number of high temperature reactor developers vied for the DOE award that went to NuScale, including San Diego’s General Atomics, and X-Energy Inc., a Greenbelt, Maryland-based company that is developing a pebble bed reactor based on older South Africa designs.

Stay tuned to the Weinberg site as we delve into some of these alternative reactor designs in our upcoming blog posts.

Photo is from NuScale via ChenectedAiche

Chu Obama Charles Watkins Wiki

“Before I go Mr. President, let me tell you about these molten salt reactors.” That’s a completely made-up conversation. But outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu (l), this week did say that small modular reactors will be key to the country’s low carbon energy future. MSRs are one variety of them.

You might have missed the quiet announcement earlier this week: The U.S. Department of Energy has opened a second round in its $450 million program to fund small modular nuclear reactors, following its grant to Babcock & Wilcox late last year.

In a logical scenario, the next recipient would receive about $227 million, or roughly the same as what B&W is believed to have won.

“The Energy Department will solicit proposals for cost-shared small modular reactor projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and achieve commercial operation around 2025,” DOE said in a press release.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are much smaller than the gigawatt-plus size of new conventional designs. DOE said it is “seeking 300 megawatts or smaller.”

They auger lower costs because they can be manufactured in more of an assembly-line manner and transported complete to a site, and because they would allow utilities and other end users to add power in increments. They also lend themselves to installation in remote areas where they could provide a less expensive alternative to diesel generators.


Another advantage: they can potentially serve as sources of clean heat for industrial processes in factories and oil fields.

Outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu made it clear that they are an important part of a low carbon energy future.

“As President Obama said in the State of the Union, the Administration is committed to speeding the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” Chu said in the release. “Innovative energy technologies, including small modular reactors, will help provide low-carbon energy to American homes and businesses, while giving our nation a key competitive edge in the global clean energy race.”

The DOE release also says that SMRs will offer “innovative and effective solutions for enhanced safety, operations and performance.”


With all that in mind, it seems to me that DOE should take a serious look at molten salt reactors (MSRs) and pebble bed reactors (PBRs), rather than only look at shrunken versions of conventional uranium fueled, water-cooled reactor, such as what B&W is building with its 180-megawatt mPower reactor (utility Tennessee Valley Authority plans to deploy two mPower units by 2021).

“Conventional” SMR companies like Nuscale Power, Gen4 Energy  and Westinghouse could well vie for the next round with small water-cooled reactors. But is this not also a funding opportunity for MSR companies like Huntsville, Ala.’s Flibe Energy and Cambridge, Mass.-based Transatomic Power?

Most MSR designs tick the “smaller” box, and would certainly qualify in the “enhanced safety, operations and performance” category. They are meltdown proof, operate at normal atmospheric pressure rather than at the high pressure of  many water-cooled designs, and they make more efficient use of fuel because they operate at higher temperatures. They also leave less waste, and in certain designs, can use nuclear wast as fuel. DOE’s 2025 target would be feasible.

Transatomic might be counted out if it sticks firmly to its intention to build a 500-megawatt reactor, which is above the 300 megawatt ceiling stated by DOE. But it seems that at their early stage of development, Transatomic could tinker with size.

Flibe fits right into the modular size, as it’s targeting between 10 and 50 megawatts, and up to 250 megawatts.


And don’t rule out a pebble bed option, either. Like MSRs, gas-cooled PBRs run at high temperatures. They fit well into small, modular form factors. A DOE-China collaboration ties the two ideas together, as it is looking into using molten salt coolants in solid fuel high temperature reactor (MSRs uses molten salts as part of their liquid fuel mix, as well as for the coolants that aborb the heat of a nuclear reaction and transfer it to a turbine).

In fact conventional giant Westinghouse is the commercial adviser to the DOE-China project, so it could have an interest in applying for funding for an alternative design, although it is almost certainly much further along with its small conventional reactor.

There is plenty of cross-pollinated interest among the various alternative parties that together could build a case for funding alternative nuclear. Westinghouse  – the commercial adviser to the U.S.-China molten salt coolant project – ran the Advanced Reactors track at last November’s American Nuclear Society’s annual winter conference (ANS) in San Diego, where the presentations included molten salts and high temperature reactors.

They also included talks by University of California Berkeley nuclear engineering head Per Peterson (he chaired the 5-day conference as well), who is known for his  interest in pebble bed reactors and in molten salt coolants. Peterson is also on the board of advisors at MSR company Flibe. In fact Peterson chaired the 5-day conference. Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist Charles Forsberg, a member of the DOE-China team, also presented in the alternative nuclear track.

Another MIT expert, Richard Lester, is a key adviser to MSR company Transatomic. Lester is the head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, where he is also the “Japan Steel Industry Professor” (I conjure up images of molten salt reactors supplying heat to steel mills when I see that).


And MIT, of course, is home to President Obama’s nominee for Chu’s replacement as Energy Secretary, the pro-nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz.

These individuals are not all united behind all the same causes and companies, but most of them share a big vested interest in alternative nuclear. It seems as though together, they could raise government interest – and backing – in the area.

Of course they’ll have to find funding elsewhere as well. I could imagine an oil company getting behind the development of a small MSR, for among other reasons, to use as a heat source. Or space agency NASA. The military might also want to invest – an MSR could help domestic bases disconnect from the creaky public grid, as Flibe president Kirk Sorensen has pointed out.

How about venture capital? Maybe. Flibe has added Bram Cohen to its board of advisers. Cohen is the founder of Internet company BitTorrent, where he has experience at raising $40 million in venture capital. Transatomic is getting ready to attempt a “Series A” round of venture financing.

Those possibilities could make a good mix. A DOE award should be a possibility. In the current round it might be a long shot. But so was the moon.

Photo from Charles Watkins, White House photographer, via Wikimeda

Nuclear power’s hidden role in Japan

Posted by Mark Halper on December 21st, 2012

Freezing irony. This nuclear powered icebreaker is helping to bring natural gas to Japan to replace         nuclear power.

Today’s post is an ironic salute to small nuclear reactors.

As I’ve written here recently, reactors that are much smaller than the gigawatt-plus giants that typically feed electrical grids hold great promise in moving the world onto CO2-free energy.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) can: reduce the upfront cost for a utility that wants to add capacity; provide electricity to remote off grid locations, replacing CO2-intense and expensive diesel; blast heat into industrial processes that rely on fossil fuels. They can even co-locate with renewables and provide the round-the-clock electricity that renewables cannot.

In principle manufacturers will be able to make SMRs in assembly line style, and ship them on trucks, which should lead to lower costs.

Although the planet has yet to really deploy SMRs for these various new purposes, SMRs have been around as propulsion devices for nearly 60 years, ever since the launch of the USS Nautilus nuclear submarine in 1955.


So it is here that I tip my hat to one of the latest examples of small reactors helping to literally carry things forward.

Hail Russia! The only country in the world with a fleet of atomic icebreakers has just completed an astonishing mission.

Three of its hearty vessels – powered by small pressurized reactors – have escorted a cargo of Gazprom liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the Arctic Sea along Russia’s northern coast to…get ready for the irony…Japan.

Two nukes and a tanker of gas head toward Japan (a third icebreaker is out of the picture).

Yes, Japan, the same country that has shut down 52 of its 54 nuclear reactors, is now essentially relying on nuclear power to help deliver the natural gas to help replace its nuclear power!

The gas came from Russian behemoth Gazprom. The Greek registered Ob River LNG tanker left the port of Hammerfest in Norway on Nov. 7., and arrived in Japan’s port of Tobata on Dec. 5.

Along the way, it ploughed through the icy Northern Sea Route, assisted by the nuclear powered ships 50 Years of Victory, Vaygach and Russia, according to Gazprom’s website. They’re all part of the Atomflot collection of nuclear icebreakers.

The Arctic Sea is a much better option than say, Panama or Suez for shipping gas to Japan from northern areas. That is, as long as you have access to decent nuclear-powered icebreakers.


Gazprom says that the route cuts the journey time by about 40 percent, which in turn reduces LNG loss from evaporation and cuts CO2 emissions. The northern climes also reduce the risk of pirate attack, Gazprom points out (pirates seem to like warm weather).

The irony of the nuclear delivered gas is probably not lost on Japan, where political sentiment is now shifting back to a pro-nuclear position with the election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The country has been struggling to fill the power void and has been relying on CO2-ladened fossil fuels. It also faces potentially severe economic consequences in a non-nuclear future.

As Japan and the rest of the world grow more aware of the capabilities of small reactors – as so dramatically displayed by Atomflot – sentiment should continue to shift more in nuclear’s favour.

Photos from Gazprom

DOE to fund SMRs

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 8th, 2012

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced three public-private partnerships to develop small, modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) technologies at the Savannah River Site facility (SRS) South Carolina in an effort to advance the next generation of nuclear energy technology

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