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US Small-Scale Nuclear Reactor Industry Gains Traction In Missouri 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the grabbing-market-share-from-mr-fusion dept.
trichard writes with this quote from an AP report: "Ameren Missouri is vying to be the first utility in the country to seek a construction and operating license for a small-scale nuclear reactor, a technology that's appealing to utilities because of the smaller upfront costs and shorter development lead times. The small reactors, about a fourth or less the capacity of full-size nuclear units, are appealing to the nuclear industry because they could be manufactured at a central plant and shipped around the world. By contrast, building nuclear reactors today is a more cumbersome process that must be done largely on site and takes years."
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US Small-Scale Nuclear Reactor Industry Gains Traction In Missouri

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:30PM (#39748519)
    Do lots of smaller reactors fail at a rate statistically below or at least equal to a single larger reactor that generates the same amount of power?
    • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:35PM (#39748575) Homepage Journal

      Do lots of smaller reactors fail at a rate statistically below or at least equal to a single larger reactor that generates the same amount of power?

      From TFS:

      "Ameren Missouri is vying to be the first utility in the country to seek a construction and operating license for a small-scale nuclear reactor,

      Guessing this means it's probably far to early to tell...

      • by Kenja (541830)

        Guessing this means it's probably far to early to tell..

        Should be calculated by the engineers in the design phase of the project.

    • by honestmonkey (819408) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:58PM (#39748855) Journal
      I suppose it depends on the design, but a smaller reactor can be built so that if it loses cooling it just shuts down (i.e. the reaction stops), not melts down. I remember reading about this a long time ago, about how we could have reactors in neighborhoods with no problems. Oh wait, here we go:

      "Most [small reactors] are also designed for a high level of passive or inherent safety in the event of malfunction. A 2010 report by a special committee convened by the American Nuclear Society showed that many safety provisions necessary, or at least prudent, in large reactors are not necessary in the small designs forthcoming."

      From http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html [world-nuclear.org].
      • I suppose it depends on the design, but a smaller reactor can be built so that if it loses cooling it just shuts down (i.e. the reaction stops), not melts down. I remember reading about this a long time ago, about how we could have reactors in neighborhoods with no problems. Oh wait, here we go: "Most [small reactors] are also designed for a high level of passive or inherent safety in the event of malfunction. A 2010 report by a special committee convened by the American Nuclear Society showed that many safety provisions necessary, or at least prudent, in large reactors are not necessary in the small designs forthcoming."

        Yeah, let's downplay the need for safety measures. What could go wrong? Whatever you do, don't employ the truly fail-safe measures that CANDU reactors [wikipedia.org] have proven effective since the 60's. I mean, where's the fun in that?

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, let's downplay the need for safety measures. What could go wrong? Whatever you do, don't employ the truly fail-safe measures that CANDU reactors [wikipedia.org] have proven effective since the 60's. I mean, where's the fun in that?

          I see your CANDU and I raise you LFTR reactors [wikipedia.org]

          • by honestmonkey (819408) on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:16PM (#39752863) Journal
            The folks (I was going to say idiots, but perhaps they just don't understand science) commenting a few levels up and down around here that worry about safety need to read about this - LFTR reactors. From Wikipedia and memory, they can be made inherently safe. That is, they can't melt down. No China syndrome. It's not that they have absolutely no safety measures, it's that you need fewer of them, and don't have to worry about the reactor like those in Fukushima. If something happens to the cooling, the reactor automatically shuts down. Not "the sensors pick up a rise in temperature so the blast doors start to automatically close" kind of shut down, but "the thing doesn't work if the cooling isn't in place, so no reaction".

            Anyway, yeah, I'm just a shill for the nuclear industry. Caught me. Dang.
      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        Also, the Toshiba 4S (which this is most likely) is pretty safe to begin with as it is sealed, and uses liquid sodium which has a tendency not to boil (understatement...)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_4S [wikipedia.org]

        There are also some designs utilizing Thorium that look pretty promising. The Thorium232 requires neutron input to convert to U235, which then is the fission source, so when something happens, power to the reaction is cut off and the thorium just stops being converted, and no more reaction.

        http://en.w [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo (196126)

        A 2010 report by a special committee convened by the American Nuclear Society showed that many safety provisions necessary, or at least prudent, in large reactors are not necessary in the small designs forthcoming.

        Wow, seriously, you are happy to take the word of the pro-nuclear lobby in this matter? You know that most of the accidents we have had were due to overconfidence, mismanagement, operators lying to regulators...

    • by jamstar7 (694492)
      Does it matter? The econutters will do their damnedest to make sure none of these puppies go online. They've got a track record of going apeshit as soon as they hear the word 'nuclear'. And considering the units will be manufactured 'elsewhere' and shipped to the site, they'll scream that the terrorrorrorrorists will be able to shortstop one of them and make a WMD or something. This tells me that this idea, great in concept, just ain't gonna fly.

      Pity. Thorium reactors are much safer all the way around
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        "econutters" have never stopped any plants before. They make a great strawman though, don't they?

        The reality is plants tend to not get built due to them not being a very high return on investment.

        • by dargaud (518470)

          "econutters" have never stopped any plants before. They make a great strawman though, don't they?

          Yes they have [wikipedia.org]. Sorry if the link is in french. Just search for Plogoff.

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          They just put up lawsuits against the reactors, which causes the energy company to spend money defending themselves, and either delay the reactor, or get it completely stopped. The "econutters", or NIMBYS as I prefer to call them, are the biggest problem with getting new reactors online in the US.

    • by Renraku (518261) on Friday April 20, 2012 @05:13PM (#39750647) Homepage

      A small reactor in simulations fails about as much as a big reactor, only it can be built to be a tomb if something goes wrong and the worst happens. Look at B&W's mPower modular reactor design, for example.

  • Anyone have technical details for the reactors?
    • Look up Toshiba 4S. Then give a big 'hello' to Galena, Alaska [wikipedia.org] (who has been trying to do this for a decade or so).

      • So we're potentially looking at a couple of reactors we could ship "spent" fuel to burn it further?
      • Sounds like old fashion Steam producing technology with the same safety issues of larger reactors: 300ÂC high-pressure steam that is begging to break stuff.

        We should be going LFTR all the way.

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Did you read about the 4S? It is sodium cooled, not water cooled. I don't even think there is a steam cycle involved with that reactor as it is listed as a sealed reactor. It is probably more like a sodium cooled RTG.

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Here is an article explaining the safety features of the 4S:

          http://www.roe.com/pdfs/technical/Galena/20070312_Containment_Whitepaper_Rev01.pdf [roe.com]

          Specifically interesting to me:

          Important features of the design of the 4S include:
          -fModular construction, which will reduce costs and construction time
          -Nuclear systems that are embedded below grade, resulting in safety and security
          benefits
          f-Liquid sodium coolant, which does not react with core internals or piping
          f-Coolant that is not highly pressurized, which minimizes stresses on the plant systems
          f-Passive safety systems that do not depend on emergency power to function
          f-Negative reactivity temperature coefficients that cause the reaction rate in the core to
          slow down as temperatures rise
          -Air-cooled reactor vessel, steam generator, and condenser, so that no coolant water or
          intake structures are required
          -30-year core life, which avoids the need to refuel, eliminates fuel storage, and
          minimizes fuel handling concerns
          -Capability of load following without mechanical operation of reactor control system
          f-Ease of decommissioning by containment of all radioactive materials within the
          reactor module throughout the life of the plant.

    • Re:Details (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:49PM (#39748733)

      Anyone have technical details for the reactors?

      Of course! Just let us know your location and we'll send a team to deliver them.


      Sincerely,
      The FBI

      • Anyone have technical details for the reactors?

        Of course! Just let us know your location and we'll send a team to deliver them. Sincerely, The FBI

        I wish I had mod points. Well played, sir, well played.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Anyone have technical details for the reactors?

      Hey, is that you Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

  • At "about a fourth or less the capacity of full-size nuclear units", I'm sorry but it's still too large.

    It just won't fit in my backyard, even if I try.

    • Re:NIMBY (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:51PM (#39748755) Homepage
      This is kind of my view of the future. Have very small nuclear reactors, the kind you find on Navy Submarines that can be used to power a very small area, maybe just a single subdivision. Mass producing small, self contained reactors would probably bring the costs and complexity down quite a bit. Plus distribution would be much cheaper, because you wouldn't have to have super high capacity lines going all over the place. Nuclear power isn't that scary. I see no reason that we allow people to have gas furnaces and water heaters in their houses, but do not allow them to have a small scale nuclear reactor.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Baloroth (2370816)

        Because a gas furnace that blows up might leave the house uninhabitable for a few days. A nuclear reactor that melts down might leave a few square miles uninhabitable for a century. I love nuclear power, but unless we can produce some sort of pebble-bed like system where the probability of radioactive contamination is nearly zero, putting them under the control of the average citizen is a terrible idea.

        Plus, nuclear proliferation is still a very real problem.

        • by WebCowboy (196209)

          A nuclear reactor that melts down might leave a few square miles uninhabitable for a century.

          Except the type of nuclear "micro-reactor" that would fit within a city lot, typically within a facility the size of a typical substation at most, would be incapable of going into meltdown. Furthermore throium-based reactors produce much more "benign" waste products--certainly they are still toxic but disposal and site remediation would be not that far removed from something like decontaminating the site of an old gas station that once handled leaded fuel.

          Also, a gas furnace that blows up would in all like

      • by zero0ne (1309517)

        How do you secure a reactor like this though?

        If I have a gun can I shoot at it and it goes BOOM?
        What if I have a grenade?
        Rocket?
        Large home-made bomb?
        Stolen Bunker buster missile?

        If you were able to get it to go BOOM or melt down, what are we talking about for containment? If it powers a suburban area 20sq miles, will the melt down only cause health issues for that 20sq miles or larger? If it impacts areas around it, do they get a say on how you deploy it and regulations you need to follow to secure it?

      • Have very small nuclear reactors, the kind you find on Navy Submarines that can be used to power a very small area,

        Small reactors like those on submarines tend to require weapons-grade fuel.

        I see no reason that we allow people to have gas furnaces and water heaters in their houses, but do not allow them to have a small scale nuclear reactor.

        See above.

    • It just won't fit in my backyard, even if I try.

      Put in the front yard. It will keep the kids off your lawn.

      Works for me.

  • by mlts (1038732) * on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:47PM (#39748705)

    For a small town, a small (~220 MW) plant will come very handy. It helps ensure they will be up if the grid goes down, that businesses would have a utility power guarantee, and it also gives clean power without having to deal with a coal or other fossil fuel plant.

    I keep seeing these pieces of a puzzle popping up on /. that would solve the core problems our culture faces. A wind turbine to pull water from the air here, small reactors there, isobutane from CO2, better batteries from IBM, and self driving cars. Putting these technologies together, and we have done a lot for the transportation infrastructure. The reactors would give reliable power, which can be used to charge batteries on electric vehicles or make usable fuel for IC engines. Road congestion and even the need for a vehicle (as opposed to just renting one for a trip) would be eased by self driving cars.

    I just wish some of these cool potential ideas came into practical use. Self driving cars would allow for a lot of flexibility especially.

    As energy availability improves, so do economies.

    • by hjf (703092)

      as i understand, nuclear (and hydro) are "base" supplies. they need to run 24/7. fossil fuel, especially liquid fuel and gas plants, can be turned on and off easily (can't close down a dam, or shutdown a reactor).

      So the plant will need to power the town constantly and use the grid as backup.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Hydro can be turned off and on by simply closing the valve. The problem is that when you turn off the valve, the water starts to collect behind the dam, and if you leave it off for too long, it could overflow. However, it would be simple to create an overflow system in a hydro dam. Depending on how much power is needed at any one point, divert the water to the overflow system and just have it drain down the river instead of going through the turbines. You can also turn down nuclear by inserting those rods
        • by Bill Dimm (463823)

          However, it would be simple to create an overflow system in a hydro dam..Depending on how much power is needed at any one point, divert the water to the overflow system and just have it drain down the river instead of going through the turbines.

          Actually, you can use excess energy to pump the water up into a storage facility and let it roll back down later when you need the energy. See Muddy Run Pumped Storage Facility [wikipedia.org]

      • by dbIII (701233)
        Nuclear is typically base load due to being huge units producing vast amounts of steam so it takes quite a while to get enough steam for the turbines to spin up. Something smaller than the current huge reactors is likely to take less time to get going and could be used to cover peaks.
        Hydro on the other hand is used for base load because it's cheap to run once you have all the infrastructure - but it's used for peak load as well because it takes less than a minute to start up some very large hydro units.
  • by bjwest (14070) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:08PM (#39748965)

    have been in use by the U.S. Navy for decades. They've plenty of safety and failure rate data on them, they've got a high safety rating, and they're pretty small. Start mass producing them suckers and they'll be cheap as hell. Start peppering the power grid with them here and there, and soon we'll have clean, virtually unlimited power. Most counties in the country can get by with one, and still have plenty of power to spare which can be sold off to the larger cities that need would more than one.

    • by compro01 (777531) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:32PM (#39749277)

      have been in use by the U.S. Navy for decades. They've plenty of safety and failure rate data on them, they've got a high safety rating, and they're pretty small.

      They also require weapons-grade uranium for fuel, which kinda rules out their use in civilian applications.

      • by Jeng (926980)

        Weapons grade or not there will be a ton of security.

        And even if there was not military base level of security it's not like you can just go in and pull out the fuel. This reactor will not be sitting in Iran or North Korea, it will be in Missouri.

    • That's true, but let's keep in mind that it won't be the U.S. Navy operating these new reactors. I trust the Navy to run a reactor properly a hell of a lot more than I trust a power company.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Weapons grade nuclear material. In portable enclosures. That need to be disposed of (hint: the military hasn't figured out a good way yet). There are reasons why it hasn't happened and never will.

  • The Real Travestry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon (149926) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:23PM (#39749169)

    "Ameren said the application process could cost $80 million to $100 million and take four years."

    • Four years I can deal with - hell it takes that long to site a hydro plant these days.

      Eight to 100 million dollars sounds, shall we say, just a little bit fucking insane.

      • Err, 80, eighty.

        Although 8 million dollars (said with evil lisp) really should generate enough paper to act as a primary shield for the reactor itself.

        • by CptNerd (455084)
          100 million would just about pay the insurance premiums needed to pay for the nuisance lawsuits posted by NIMBYs and the green NukeFUD complex of organizations.
      • by sycodon (149926)

        If this number includes the manufacturer ramping up the design and all the engineers needed to fully test and QA the thing, I could understand.

        But if they have one completed and running and all this cost is just communicating information to the feds (generating paper work) then it is indeed infuckingsane.

  • by Luckyo (1726890) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:32PM (#39749273)

    As I understand, this comes after russians started to do the same thing making many people realise that this is actually doable: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_floating_nuclear_power_station [wikipedia.org]

    Basically a small reactor on a floating platform that you pull to the shore, connect to a local prepared transformer station and you have power. It makes a very good alternative to constructing power plants in remote regions for example. I believe the suggestion in OP was mirrored by other nations with capability of building naval nuclear reactors.

  • Not quite true... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:34PM (#39749291) Homepage

    The small reactors, about a fourth or less the capacity of full-size nuclear units, are appealing to the nuclear industry because they could be manufactured at a central plant and shipped around the world. By contrast, building nuclear reactors today is a more cumbersome process that must be done largely on site and takes years.

    That's an editorial addition by the submitter - and not part of TFA. And it's not quite right either.
     
    Regardless of the size of the plant, the major machinery is built off-site and shipped to the construction site for installation. What's time consuming and expensive on site (and it's not clear that small reactors escape this) is the labor intensive work of hooking up all the piping, wiring, and ancillary systems for the plant.
     
    What saves time and money in this kind of construction is eliminating building major machinery only on demand, and instead building it at a slow but steady and predictable pace. I.E. if you can negotiate to buy April's production in February of the previous year, you have less capital tied up (and thus pay less interest) than if you had to order your machinery two, three, or four years in advance. Though standardized serial production isn't quite the same as mass production, it has the same benefits to a lesser degree.

  • by sribe (304414) on Friday April 20, 2012 @04:03PM (#39749735)

    I mean seriously, what we're talking about here is literally "the mobile home of nuclear reactors" ;-)

  • While you're there, discussing new reactor designs. Thanks.

    http://akiomatsumura.com/2012/04/682.html [akiomatsumura.com]
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Friday April 20, 2012 @09:43PM (#39753001) Journal

    I'll probably get modded down, but this is exactly the scenario the disassembly of PUCHA in the 2005 Energy act allowed.

    The vendor doesn't *have* to build the reactor to get the funding or the tax credits, it just has to be proposed. Can we see the design of the reactor, where it is going to be sited etc.

    If five are proposed that's a tidy return on the investment of the license fee. Of course more of these will be proposed for funding remember; Obtaining the license would not require Ameren to add the reactors. Which is a similar scenario that led to the depression and the passing of PUCHA, Why provide the funding if they don't *have* to build the utility? But that's what the act allows. Would you seriously pay money for *anything* up front if you weren't guaranteed that you were getting what you chip in for?

    Lame Car analogy: Hey Fred lets go halves in a car. Ok Jack here is half the money. Thanks for that money Fred but I've changed my mind.

    "The fact that we are speeding so quickly into the whole small modular nuclear reactor is so frightening," Smith said. Of course - but not because these things will ever be built. It's because it's a con. Pro Nuke or Nuke Free, it doesn't matter. This is a scheme to plunder rate and tax payers money into the coffers of the large business,,, again.

    I guess bubbles aren't just limited to the tech sector.

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