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We've all heard the claim: "commercial reactors only come in one size -- extra-large."

At a Washington press conference last week, an old name in nuclear technology hammered yet another nail in the coffin of this misconception.

B&W introduces scalable, practical nuclear energy

The Babcock & Wilcox Company (B&W) plans to deploy a North American-manufactured, scalable nuclear reactor using its unique history of more than 50 years of continuous reactor engineering and manufacturing. The B&W mPower reactor design is a passively safe [nuclear reactor, which] would provide customers with practical power increments of 125 MWe to meet local energy needs within power grid and plant site constraints.

As the New York Times noted, B&W touts this new technology as a "potential game changer for the global nuclear market."

A "Game Changer"? So What Is It?

B&W's new design is a light water reactor, a concept that is similar to the 104 nuclear reactors that provide almost 20% of electricity generation in the US today. The main difference between this new design and currently operating reactors is that B&W's concept is much smaller, about 1/8 the size of a conventional nuclear plant. This scaled-down size provides several advantages:

It is modular: The reactor and steam generator components can be manufactured at a North American factory, assembly-line style, and shipped by rail to site. The entire combined reactor/steam-generator unit is small enough to fit on rail cars.

It uses passive safety features: Today's nuclear reactors rely on redundant, engineered safety systems. Although this has been a highly successful strategy, these active safety systems cost money to design, build, and maintain. Newer designs, such as Westinghouse's AP-1000, use passive safety systems -- relying on the laws of physics, rather than an engineered system consisting of pumps, valves, and motors, to provide safety. In general, passive safety systems are easier to design for smaller reactors like the 125 MW mPower, and this design leverages this advantage.

It is flexible: The relatively small, modular design can be deployed in a wide variety of locations. A single unit can be used to supply the electricity for a small city, or the modules can be deployed in groups. A plant consisting of a "six pack" of these modules would produce 750 MW of electricity, which would make it the size of a fairly large power plant. A grouping such as this would have economic advantages as well, since the reactors would be able to share resources, such as generators and auxiliary buildings. The owner of the plant would be able to add additional capacity (in increments of 175 MW) as the demand for electricity increases. Such a staggering of capital investments would reduce financial risk and eliminate one of the criticisms that many fiscal conservatives have levied against new nuclear plants: that they are too risky for Wall Street to finance without government help.

Gee Wiz - Other Nifty Features

The new design has a couple of other interesting features:

  • The entire nuclear/steam-generation part of the plant is designed to be located below ground. This has some obvious advantages, such as protection against airplane strikes.
  • The reactor is designed to need refuelling only once in every five years. This refueling cycle is over three times as long as the 12 to 18 month refueling cycle used by today's nuclear plants.
  • The plant design will include a spent fuel pool that is large enough to store 60 years' worth of used fuel -- i.e., all of the fuel that will be used by the plant during its entire design life. With the uncertainty that exists today when it comes to what will be done with used nuclear fuel -- bury it, recycle it, or whatever -- this is a very practical feature that leaves nothing to chance.

Yet Another Small Reactor?

Press releases about small reactors are nothing new. Several companies have announced plans for building small reactors -- including NuScale, in Oregon, which plans to build small 40 MW modular reactors, and Hyperion, out of Los Alamos, which has its own design for a "nuclear battery" that is about the same size. So what makes this announcement different?

Well, for starters, Babcock & Wilcox is an established company in the nuclear field. Unlike some of the other companies with small reactors on the drawing board, which are startups hoping to capitalize on a single idea or innovative design, B&W has been manufacturing reactors and nuclear components for over 50 years. It has considerable experience manufacturing "small" reactors in the form of naval nuclear reactors for submarines and aircraft carriers.

Furthermore, this company already has facilities that are capable of manufacturing nuclear-grade components. It has not one, but two facilities in Ohio and Indiana that hold the coveted ASME N-Stamp, which makes them two of the few places in North America that can manufacture large, heavy-walled nuclear components and vessels.

This is not just any company that is announcing plans to build small reactors.

So What Now?

Before we get too excited over this announcement, let's take stock of the situation and consider some sobering points.

First of all, as B&W's sales brochure indicates in the footnotes, the mPower rector design is not complete. There is more work that needs to be done before this is a product that is ready to ship. B&W has indicated in its press release that it intends to submit an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for design certification of the reactor in 2011. After that, the review process will likely take a couple of years, so this is a product that will not "hit the shelves" until well into the next decade.

Nevertheless, it appears that B&W is banking on the design being similar enough to currently running power reactors to simplify and expedite the licensing process, which will allow them to bring the product to market sooner than otherwise would happen. Certainly, B&W has a point; there are quite a number of similarities. Like the 104 commercial reactors that are operating in the US today, the new design uses water as both a moderator (to slow down the neutrons) and a coolant (to carry heat energy to the turbines). From what information I've been able to gather on the internet, it appears that the parts containing the nuclear fuel (called "fuel assemblies" in the biz) are almost identical to those that are used in many of today's reactors. They are simply shorter.

These similarities, coupled with a much smaller power level, could greatly simplify the design certification process. This would give B&W a substantial advantage over its competitors in what is becoming an increasingly crowded (potential) market for small commercial nuclear reactor designs.

It is interesting to note, however, that when it comes to competition, time is perhaps on the side of Babcock and Wilcox. Since it is a large company with substantial manufacturing capabilities and an already established, stable revenue stream, B&W is in a good position to retool today to manufacture these small, modular reactors, even while the design is being finalized and certified by the regulator. Thus, once the final hurtles are overcome, it could (potentially) move very quickly into production mode. In keeping with this strategy, B&W has already entered into a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to evaluate a potential lead plant site for the new reactor.

Summary

So is this a "game changer"? Well, I think that it is premature to speculate right now, but there are some encouraging signs. This is an established company, with a long history in the nuclear field and substantial manufacturing capabilities, that has announced that it intends to develop and license a small reactor design. This is very promising news, but there are still many unknowns.

More broadly, however, this announcement gives a clear indication that industry is taking the "nuclear renaissance" very seriously, and even companies that have not been heavily involved in the commercial nuclear reactor business over the past two decades are trying to get into the game with innovative designs.

Finally, this announcement, and others like it, are putting to bed the myth that is often bandied about by paid anti-nuclear propagandists and uninformed renewable advocates: nuclear power only comes in one size -- large. That might be true today, but it most definitely will not be true tomorrow.

If this really turns out to be a game changer, however, I predict that this "game" won't be limited to just the nuclear market. This has the potential to change the game for the entire energy sector. Will it happen? We'll just have to wait and see.

Originally posted to bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 06:47 PM PDT.

Poll

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| 26 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for innovation? (27+ / 0-)

    Is small beautiful? Does size matter?

    Do anchovies ruin a pizza?

    An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
    -- H. L. Mencken

    by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 06:12:41 PM PDT

    •  It's more appealing to me than burning coal (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9, kbman, dmh44, JeffW, bryfry, davidwalters

      at least the nuclear waste is containable.

      Good piece

      Moving on, finally.

      by fisheye on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:06:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Kid... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9, kbman, KenBee, bryfry

      ...if you're going to copy Nnadir's polling style, you have to include lutefisk & King Kong. Otherwise, be a serious nuclear shill, `k?

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:36:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, this style ... (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ray Radlein, Plan9, kbman, dmh44, Roger Fox, JeffW

        is not exactly new to me. Furthermore, even if this style for poll questions was inspired by NNadir's "stream-of-consciousness" type of composition, that doesn't mean that I have to follow the form completely. If I were to put either King Kong or lutefisk in my polls, then I would be nothing but a two-bit copycat, wouldn't I?

        Personally, I wouldn't want to insult NNadir that way. Besides, the line for that privilege (insulting NNadir) here on DailyKos is far too long, and I'm a rather impatient fellow who doesn't like to wait in lines. ;-)

        An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
        -- H. L. Mencken

        by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:49:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ha! (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Plan9, kbman, dmh44, bryfry

          Any way, good diary! And I wish that they'd lift the moratorium here in Illinois so that they could both make use of these reactors and close the open-cycle fuel use of existing reactors. I'd like to see the 40% coal-supplied power drop and the 52% nyclear-supplied power at least stay stable, while the wind farms get built. But then, I've been called a nuclear shill, too.

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:55:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Plan9, kbman, JeffW

            Illinois has a substantial number of nuclear reactors in it (as well as an impressive nuclear engineering program). I too would like to see nuclear expand in that state to replace coal. I would also like to see wind expand in the state too, if it replaces coal.

            Thanks!

            An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
            -- H. L. Mencken

            by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:02:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Urbana has an IEC fusion program,. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JeffW

              FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

              by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:23:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  In what timeframe? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Blubba

              We'll know if Polywell works in 18 months to 2 yrs, Commercial rollout of electrical generators by 2020.

              Now if in 2 yrs the word is Polywell is golden, just how do you expect to fund any fission reactor?

              If you broke ground now, on the design of your choice, how long to a full power run? 8-10 yrs? For 15 to 20 billion per unit.....

              FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

              by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:33:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  If all goes well for polywell, the earliest (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bryfry, Mcrab

                a commercial plant would come on line would be 2020. Dr. Nebel indicates it may take up to six years to produce a net energy producing product (prototype plant?). A new fission plant should take about six years to build (that is about what it takes Japan to complete their reactors) and the first licenses should be issued by the NRC by sometime next year. Even when the first plant is built, it will takes several years before the first plant has enough operating experience before utilities have confidence in the new technology to build their own.

                •  Right, so 6 yrs from now Nebel (0+ / 0-)

                  should have already run his net power demo. Thats going to blow the doors off the VC guys, 2 yrs ago I  had inquiries involving multiple millions. A net power device buring PB-11 blows the doors off of everything out there, that will affect the VC flow.

                  China, India, Japan are all involved. If:

                  it will takes several years before the first plant has enough operating experience before utilities have confidence in the new technology to build their own.

                  Then said utility might be buying from a foreign manufacturer. It is open source and there is nothing stopping anyone from building them.

                  Personally I question if Utilities would build Polywells, GE, Rockwell, Electric Boat, sure.. I mean if the size estimates hold out, kits will be delivered by truck and rail, dropped off at the site. Utilities might assemble the kit,, build? no.

                  FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                  by Roger Fox on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:07:12 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'm reminded of lots of technologies that (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    bryfry

                    generated lots of buzz at the time but that we hear little about since, like the Moller Skycar and Star Rotor engines. The early fusion researchers of the 1950s also had small scale experiments that produced encouraging results. They also believed they could scale to commercial power plant size in a matter of years. To my knowledge, none of the Polywell experiments to date have even tried p-B11, which operates at much higher temperatures. Talk about getting ahead of ourselves. It almost goes without saying that if the Polywell concept successfully scales up as Nebel hopes, it will be a game changer and all current methods of generating power, including nuclear and wind, will become obsolete overnight. But it also goes without saying that if Polywell proves to be a disappointment then nothing will have changed. At such time Polywell demonstrates that it is capable of producing reliable power at a reasonable cost we should reevaluate our energy policy, but not before.

    •  Newer designs are cool very cool (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9

      far safer than anything before.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:35:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  No lutefisk in your poll (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne

      so I had to vote for the anchovy option instead.

      ...it is unfortunate that the opposition to the Democrats in this country now consists entirely of crazy people. - NNadir

      by RunawayRose on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 07:40:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not a nuclear power advocate myself (8+ / 0-)

    But I am a nerd, and this is a neat nerd thing. Have a recommend and a tip. Good diary.

    (And anchovies are great on pizza.)

  •  Interesting, But (0+ / 0-)

    good luck getting a building permit-- unless they're going to build it 100 miles away from cities, towns, etc.

    The bank bailouts are a failure. Robert Reich

    by Superpole on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 06:56:25 PM PDT

    •  If they plan to use (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein, Plan9, JeffW, TylerFromNE

      the current rules that are in force today for light water reactors, then they will not need to be "100 miles away." Any such new plants will need to be somewhate remote from large population areas, and evacuation plans will need to be implemented and maintained, but 100 miles is a large stretch.

      Personally, I live well within 100 miles of a couple of nuclear reactors, which are much larger than the small B&W design that I wrote about in this diary.

      An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
      -- H. L. Mencken

      by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:08:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's Not Me You Need To Convince (0+ / 0-)

        it's the people living relatively close to the proposed nuke plant.

        and how much will their electricity rates rise to pay for the plant?

        The bank bailouts are a failure. Robert Reich

        by Superpole on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:27:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No problem (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mcrab

          Nuclear Power Plant Neighbors Accept Potential for New Reactor Nearby by Margin of Nearly 3 to 1

          WASHINGTON—Eighty-two percent of Americans living in close proximity to nuclear power plants favor nuclear energy, and 71 percent are willing to see a new reactor built near them, according to a new public opinion survey of more than 1,100 adults across the United States.

          Only residents within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant – electric company employees excluded – were questioned. The survey also found that 86 percent give the nearest nuclear power plant a "high" safety rating, and that 87 percent are confident that the company operating the power plant can do so safely.

          (source)

          Nuclear plants have demonstrated that they are capable of producing inexpensive, dependable baseload power. They result in lower electricity rates in the long run.

          An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
          -- H. L. Mencken

          by bryfry on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 10:01:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  The basic reason NOT to build in or very (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Plan9

        near highly dense population centers has zero to do with safety but has everything to do with the construction site. 4 t o 5 years (maybe 2 to 3 for this modular model) of heavy round the clock construction is NOT what I'd wish on anyone.

        Basically these new units, like the current Gen III units could be dropped into any non-urban coal plant site. Then you get rid of the coal plant.

        David

        Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

        by davidwalters on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 08:10:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Would love to see small reactors in series (0+ / 0-)

          replacing the ancient, small, filthy coal-fired plants around the country.  Also, small reactors would cut down on the considerable fossil fuel combustion required by industrial wind farms.

          Amory Lovins: "Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy....." IPCC: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases will cause extinction of up to 70% of species by 2050.

          by Plan9 on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 09:41:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Couple things here... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein, Plan9, kbman, bryfry

      First, we're taking about a standardized, modular design for mass production. Whenever you mass-produce something, you have the opportunity to work out the kinks in the design ahead of time, and you have a larger budget for doing so, thereby reducing the risk of failure massively.

      Second, this design contains passive safety features; that means that the reactor's default "setting," as it were, is SCRAMed (off, basically). If any problem occurs, the reactor SCRAMs automatically, without need for anyone to do anything.

      Finally, as it's a much smaller design, the amount of radioactive material which could be released in the event of a catastrophic failure is correspondingly smaller.

      The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

      by TylerFromNE on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:41:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hopefully B&W has improved quality control (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ForFreedom

    since their reactor at Three Mile Island partially melted down in 1979. O_o

    Does this internet make me look fat?

    by pattyp on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 06:59:35 PM PDT

    •  Well ... I note that (6+ / 0-)

      Three Mile Island Unit 1 (also built by B&W) is still humming along today, just fine.

      An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
      -- H. L. Mencken

      by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:04:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The fact that 50% of the B&W reactors (0+ / 0-)

        at TMI are still working doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Heh.

        Does this internet make me look fat?

        by pattyp on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 09:12:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you still driving a 1979 car & using a 1979 (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NNadir, bryfry, Mcrab, Norm in Chicago

          computer and stereo containing all the same parts?

          Since 1979, a lot of attention has gone into improved engineering, better information systems, and better human engineering at every nuclear plant.  People die in steam explosions at coal plants or are killed by natural gas pipelines exploding and nobody even remembers those deadly power-plant related accidents.  Nobody died as a result of the partial core meltdown at TMI-II because it was totally contained and none of the vaporized or melted fuel escaped from the sturdy reactor vessel.

          The reactors running in the US today have been frequently upgraded and most of their parts replaced. That's why they keep operating safely, year after year, and have provided us with about 18 trillion kilowatt-hours of emissions-free electricity.  In other words, over 70% of US emissions-free electricity.

          TMI-II's electrical output is now met by burning coal, so people in the area are subjected to more mildly radioactive toxic coal waste.  The fine particulates alone from fossil fuel plants cause 24,000 deaths/year in the US.

          Amory Lovins: "Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy....." IPCC: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases will cause extinction of up to 70% of species by 2050.

          by Plan9 on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 09:52:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  On the other hand the idea that more than 50% (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Plan9, bryfry, Mcrab, Norm in Chicago

          of the coal plants that have been dumping dangerous fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere continuously for the last century and killing people  continuously fills you with what?

          A tremendous sense of relief?

          Apparently you have decided, using arbitrary criteria, that Harrisburg was wiped out by Three Mile Island and that no one has ever been killed by coal in PA.

          Nuclear power does not need to be perfect to be vastly superior to all the shit you ignore.

          It merely needs to be vastly superior to all the shit you ignore, which, of course, it is.

  •  Fission power is for shit. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Czech

    Any energy system that depends on extremely rare, gruesomely toxic substances with waste products requiring 10,000 years of impregnably secure storage is simply not the answer.

    "Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend." -Bruce Lee

    by Troubadour on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:07:22 PM PDT

    •  You have to compare it to the alternatives (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9, kbman, dmh44, JeffW, TylerFromNE

      Do you agree coal is an abomination to the environment from mountain-top removal mining, to millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, to emissions of toxic substances into the air (fine particulates, acid-rain producing gasses, toxic subtstances such as mercury), to millions of tons of toxic sludge that has no safe disposal options?  Coal, which currently produces ~50% of U.S. electricity, has to go.  With what do you replace THAT MUCH baseload juice?  These millions of tons of unbelievably toxic garbage, instead of being stored safely, are dumped into our air and water.  

      Nuclear, on the other hand, produces a FRACTION of the waste per unit energy out because fissioning one atom of Uranium produces millions of times more heat than oxidizing one atom of carbon.  Waste streams are thus 6 orders of magnitude smaller.  So unlike fossil-fuel waste, nuclear waste is easily contained in its entirety.  On one small fuel load, the new B&W reactor will produce power for a small city for five YEARS without any emissions into the environment.  

      Now, tell me, which is worse for the environment?  

      The fear of small amounts of radioactive waste that can be well managed is completely unwarranted and irrational when compared to what it would be displacing.  Context is everything.

      The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

      by mojo workin on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:52:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Pb-11 or He3 fusion (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zeke L, TylerFromNE

        if one wanted to really talk about small amounts of radioactive waste, like 100k to a million times less.

        What will happen is Polywell fusion will be designing commercial reactors before the ITER is turned on for 25 billion by 2015. And no commercial nukes will be built after that.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:59:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  And will be obsolete in a nuclear fusion solar (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TylerFromNE

      system.

      Nukes wont replace oil, Polywell fusion will.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:03:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Certainly fusion is superior in every way... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kbman, Roger Fox

      but it's still some years out before the first commercial plants are built. You often hear 2050, which I doubt - probably more like 2030 or thereabouts, given the recent advances in IEC fusion - but we've got start building new power plants pronto.

      As far as supply of fissile materials, we need only a very small volume, and we're not running out anytime soon. Moreover, closing the fuel cycle would allow us to get 60 times more energy out of our present fissile fuel supplies - we haven't even scratched the surface.

      Likewise, dealing with the relatively tiny amount of waste produced (the waste created by generating all the energy the average person uses in their lifetime would fit in a soda can) is a trivial matter. I'd bet dollars to donuts that, whenever we finally do get a national storage facility built, it will be far more difficult to get at the waste stored within than it would be to dig up altogether new fissile material.

      The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

      by TylerFromNE on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:06:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Commercial development of Polywell fusion (0+ / 0-)

        should start in 2015, roll out in 2020. According to Dr Nebel.

        SO if you think reprocessing can make a dent before then, fine. I dont see very many nukes being built in the US in the next 5-6 yrs.

        Whats worse for the fission bizz is that we'll know if Polywell is bust or boom in max 2 yrs. No if its a go, what kind of money do think would be available for nukes, answer zero nukes will be funded for electrical generation in the US.

        I'm all for enlarging the US energy portfolio, that means nukes. But the time frame seems to be very limited.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:20:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, of course, and ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mcrab

          the rise of large, economical nuclear plants was supposed to mean the end of coal. For example, in the sixties, General Electric underbid the manufacturers of coal plants to win the contract to build Oyster Creek. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era.

          We all can see how that went.

          It appears to me that your thinking is a little bit behind the times. Wondering about the wisdom of building nuclear fission plants because they would soon be outclassed and replaced by cheaper fusion plants is a very 1950's mind-set, and the Farnsworth fusor -- the design upon which the Polywell is based -- is almost that old.

          If we are to learn anything from the first era of "fusion mania" it should be not to count our chickens before they hatch. The most telling word in your comments is if.

          The Polywell fusor is not a proven technology, and there are certainly a fair number of people who have examined the concept and have concluded that it will not work, or even if it does work, it will not live up to its promises and will not go anywhere.

          Of course, I'm sure that the Polywell researchers are optimistic, as many researchers of cutting-edge technology are. I wish them luck, but it is up to them to make their concept work.

          Meanwhile, I don't think that anyone in the energy sector is too worried. Only time will tell, but if I were a betting man, I'd place my money on concepts that are based on already established, working technology, at least for the next couple of decades. After that, who knows?

          An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
          -- H. L. Mencken

          by bryfry on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 01:50:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A thing of beauty (6+ / 0-)

    Serial production offers the potential for standardization and other sources of cost-efficiency.  Having a reactor that can be manufactured in a factory, shipped by rail, truck or barge to a construction site and assembled using standardized parts and techniques has the potential to slash construction costs over the traditional mega-plants of the past.  Similarly, having a standardized reactor means certification uncertainties are virtually elimated for the end customer.  Perhaps most importantly, a reactor available off an assembly line will mean predicatable timetables and costs.  

    Given all these advantages, I would have to say modular, factory-produced reactors are a game-changer.

    I am also intrigued by the possibility of modular "cartridge" reactors being used to replace coal-burning units at existing power plants.   This would allow us to shut down coal while retaining as much existing infrastructure as possible, hence minimizing costs to turn destructive and polluting baseload power into clean baseload power.  I can only see benefits for the environment and the economy by such a development.  

    The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

    by mojo workin on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:28:14 PM PDT

    •  Well, there are folks who are ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein

      advocating a "coal-to-nuclear" approach.

      Personally, I'm not convinced that such an approach is practical; although I would love to be surprised.

      The main obstacle that I see is that most coal plants are quite dirty, whereas most commercial nuclear sites are quite clean -- amazingly clean to anyone who is familiar with industrial sites.

      Thus, I think that the coal end of the equation has a long way to go to be able to support a nuclear generation system. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but it will require work. Perhaps some sort of modular technology can isolate the nuclear part from the rest of the plant? Maybe, but I think that this is the critical link that would be required to make such a strategy possible.

      An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
      -- H. L. Mencken

      by bryfry on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:57:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We need to deal with nuclear waste first... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pattyp

    ...before any new reactors are built.

    It's all about whether one believes in objective reality.

    by MO Liberal on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:46:19 PM PDT

    •  I agree (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zeke L, Plan9, kbman, JeffW, TylerFromNE

      We need accelerated development of Gen IV reactors so existing waste can be recycled and used as fuel.  

      But, stopping any new reactors while this occurs... why would that be a good thing?  All you would guarantee is more GHG emissions, more toxic crap from coal dumped directly into our environment.  

      The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

      by mojo workin on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 07:57:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  No fission power. The future is fusion. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roger Fox

    "If memory serves, there was a dubious flirtation with nuclear fission reactors resulting in toxic side effects. By the beginning of the fusion era, these reactors had been replaced, but at this time, we may be able to find some [high-energy photons]."

  •  EMc2 fusion has a Navy contract (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dr Colossus, TylerFromNE

    to build Polywell reactors, the Navy thinks they will replace fission nukes. A Reactor room for a 1200 MW polywell looks to be no bigger than 30 ft. No thermal plant is needed. No turbines. Just an electric motor to turn the screws.

    Then whats B&W to do? Get out of the fission bizz to start.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:09:26 PM PDT

    •  EMC2 says 5 years (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kbman, mojo workin

      and they'll have a 100MW system for $200 million. Even if it's 5 times that cost, it still beats everything else out there. I've been looking into it, and it seems totally legit. Even still though, I stand by my position that we need more fission, and quickly. We can't put all our chips on a very promising yet still experimental technology.

      The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

      by TylerFromNE on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:15:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Although (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roger Fox

        It may well be better to put all of our chips on IEC fusion, compared to the pennies we're now spending on it.

        The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

        by TylerFromNE on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:34:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  200 mill is for development (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TylerFromNE

        Installed MW cost will be much less.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:37:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow! (0+ / 0-)

          I guess I misread that. If that's the case, this is going to change everything. Anyone up for a trip to Mars?

          The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

          by TylerFromNE on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 12:00:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  200 mill is for a series of Polywells (0+ / 0-)

            That leads to a Net Power PB-11 reactor in 6 yrs.

            Question: What do you estimate a kilowatt hour from your fusion reactor to cost?
            Answer: We are looking at 2-5 cents per kilowatt hour.

            http://nextbigfuture.com/...

            Electrical service/power is a huge factor/cost in testing. A 30 cm magnet Polywell built with more powerful magnets can be built for, say 10 million, 1/3 to 1/2 the cost will be for the electrical service.

            FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

            by Roger Fox on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:28:45 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  This is bogus until a real R&D one actually (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Plan9, Mcrab

          sustains plasma in a net energy output making it worth while to invest in. Don't hold your breadth. The Navy keeps it's eyes on everything, including Lutefish propulsion.

          At least the MSR WAS created and the French have money going into it.

          Fusion: STILL 50 years away.

          David

          Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

          by davidwalters on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 08:16:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  We can speculate about when all day. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roger Fox

            I tend to think that it will be longer than the projection too, which is why I'm all for new nuclear fission plants, as many and as fast as they can pour the concrete. But you must admit - it's pretty damn impressive what they've done with just a few peanuts compared to the billions going into Tokamak fusion.

            The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

            by TylerFromNE on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 08:48:29 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Fusion produces plenty of waste, too (0+ / 0-)

            People think it doesn't.

            Also there are problems coming up with materials that can survive in that environment.

            Amory Lovins: "Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy....." IPCC: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases will cause extinction of up to 70% of species by 2050.

            by Plan9 on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 09:56:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Horse hockey, aneutronic fusion means no neutrons (0+ / 0-)

              HE fusion is utterly aneutronic, and Pb-11 is considered aneutronic. There are many fuels that can be used in fusion.

              So stop with the Tokamak thinking , the ITER will use Deuterium & Tritium, which produces insane amounts of neutrons. Deuterium Deuterium fuels produce much less than Deuterium & Tritium.

              Then theres Proton Lithium, Helium Lithium, Deuterium Helium....

              I've included a link to a chart.

              FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

              by Roger Fox on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:20:28 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Only as bogus as a Tokamak (0+ / 0-)

            FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

            by Roger Fox on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:32:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  And look at the time frame (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TylerFromNE

        how long is the next nuke in the US going to take to get on line?

        If Nebel says polywell is going to work in 2 years, thats going to splash the VC guys bigtime, 2015 to 2020 for rollout of a commercial design, means nuke money dries up real fast.

        So just when do they get to build these nukes? I dont see more than 6 new nukes coming online in the
        US in that time frame. 7200 MW.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 08:42:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, I have a fairly big problem - with due (5+ / 0-)

    deference to my good friend Rod Adams and many other people - with the idea that small is intrinsically good.

    It is not necessarily so.

    When we have completely phased out our massive coal plants, it may be time to revisit the matter.

    In any case there are oodles of small reactors known all around the world, particularly naval and research reactors.

    It's not like the idea is new.   The first commercial reactors - all of which operated for a long time - were all small by modern standards.

    The overall capital cost of a large reactor looks intimidating at first, but 20 years out, when they are cash cows just generating tons and tons of revenue, the matter looks very different I think.

    I personally like big reactors.   I can see a niche for some small reactors and I am designing a few of that type myself, but the mission is different.

    For generating baseload electricity, so long as there are any coal plants operating anywhere, we need to quickly and regulary build large reactors.

  •  Another point I would make is that the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ray Radlein, Plan9, kbman, TylerFromNE

    regulatory sphere is not designed for small reactors.

    This is probably something that could and should be fixed, but it is currently not so.

    •  Well, of course (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NNadir

      I'm sure that Babcock and Wilcox, or the folks at the NEI, will be lobbying to have the rules changed so that they don't penalize smaller reactors. We're already starting to see some progress in this area.

      Personally, I don't like to get too deeply involved in the debate over large vs. small reactors.

      Sure, if society had the sense to plan a rational energy policy from the top down -- such as the French have largely managed to do -- then building a bunch of nearly identical, very large, very reliable nuclear plants makes great economic sense. This is why the French have designed a very large, very reliable nuclear reactor -- the EPR -- which they plan to roll out in nearly identical units to meet expanding demand and to replace some of their older plants as they are retired.

      Unfortunately, we Americans don't have the luxury of such top-down, highly centralized decision making, and our "grid" is really a hodge-podge of smaller, semi-independent grids. Thus, there is room for small reactors to find a good market -- or at least, that's what B&W is hoping for and banking on.

      I predict that the large nuclear plant will not go away anytime soon, and designs such as this and the even smaller NuScale concept will be built in packs, so that they can share resources. The main advantage of doing a nuclear plant this way is that the plant can be built up incrementally, thereby reducing financial risk, which I'm sure will be important to at least some of the potential nuclear plant owners out there.

      In addition to these packs of plants ("nukepacks"?) , I can see market opportunities for individual small reactors -- either for remote locations that are dependent of oil for their electricity or for industrial sites, which are often powered by natural gas these days. For the latter application, however, high-temperature reactor designs have a distinct advantage, since often the process heat is the most important product, and any electricity that is generated is merely a convenience. It is amazing how much money DuPont spends each year to purchase natural gas for its industrial facilities.

      An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
      -- H. L. Mencken

      by bryfry on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 02:14:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well certainly I'd like to see the licensing (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bryfry

        of small reactors streamlined.

        I also believe that the process for approving new reactors is not necessarily flexible enough to give humanity the best shot at survival.

        I would not discount nuclear entrepreneurs at all, but they live right now in a very difficult regulatory world.

        There are millions of great reactor ideas out there and only a very small subset have been effectively explored.

        Still I think we should be building large reactors on a large scale ASAP on an emergency basis.

        If we want to invest in something that will last long into the future, this would be it, the large reactor.

  •  In WA State (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Plan9

    I just read that there is some interest in doing these at the Hanford Site in WA.  I find the concept interesting.  Yes there are ootles of small reactors and they have been used safely for years.  Not willing to bet the farm on fusion yet.  There still seems to be a way to go on proving that a positive energy reaction cycle can be sustained.  We need to continue to explore alternative possibilities.  Railroad car size nuke plants seem to be a reasonable approach to consider.  If we don't keep an open mind what happens when liquid fuel is essentially gone and coal can't be burned because of the atmosphere and fusion maybe fizzles.  We can't wait but have to move forward on many fronts.  

    "Vote Your Hopes Not Your Fears."

    by YellerDog on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 10:40:30 PM PDT

    •  Interesting you'd bring up rail... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9

      I've been working on the economics of a proposal for an almost world-wide high-speed rail network (bridges across the Bering strait and strait of Gibraltar, overland rail through Central America, integration with European networks, and so on). In my view, the best way to power such a network isn't by electrifying the whole thing, but by building nuclear-powered rail engines. Of course, that has its own problems in terms of politics, but conceptually, it'd be great.

      The Obama Economic Policy: Save The Parasites, Kill The Patient | Blog: The Daily Elitist

      by TylerFromNE on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 12:07:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  widely dispersed nuclear reactors in every town (0+ / 0-)

    and city across the world.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    •  Ask yourself the same question about (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plan9

      the currently widely dispersed coal plants that kill thousands each year when operated as intended.

      The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

      by mojo workin on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 04:56:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  widely dispersed electricity grids in every city (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bryfry, Mcrab

      across the US.  What could possibly go wrong?

      411 people died from electrocutions in the US 2001 (US Consumer Product Safety)
      0.63 per million people died from electrocutions in the US 2001 (US Consumer Product Safety)
      Large appliance were responsible for 19% of electrocution deaths in the US 2001 (US Consumer Product Safety)
      Installed household wiring was responsible for 11% of electrocution deaths in the US 2001 (US Consumer Product Safety)

      Deaths from commercial nuclear power in 50 years: 0

      Deaths from all fossil fuel combustion every year in the US: 70,000

      Amory Lovins: "Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy....." IPCC: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases will cause extinction of up to 70% of species by 2050.

      by Plan9 on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 10:02:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Only a big time utility guy (0+ / 0-)

    would consider 125 MW "small"

    I've worked on projects from kilowatts to gigawatts. I would consider 125 to be small to medium on the utility scale, large on the industrial scale and huge on the DG scale.

  •  Economies of mass production (0+ / 0-)

    At 125 MWe each, these will be large enough to be attractive to large utilities and small enough to be attractive to small utilities. But the centralized mass production of these units is going to reduce the capital cost dramatically. And the ability to build these units in just three years could rapidly increase America's nuclear capacity.

    This concept could be one of the keys to re-industrializing America.

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