Small modular nuclear reactor promise? SMR prospects are good!

Factory made, dropped into a bunker or a mine, run uninterrupted for 20 or 30 years using leftover ‘nuclear waste’ – of which there is enough for hundreds of years of energy supply.   And then recycle the fuel core to burn more of the energy in fissionable material.  Producing far more power from the same ore with with far less waste and far shorter lived – 300 as opposed to 30,000 year – fission products.  Replacing aluminium fuel cladding with silicon-carbide.  Melting aluminium in superheated steam produces hydrogen which then explodes.  In the history of bad ideas – this one gave us Chernobyl and Fukushima.  General Atomics is supplying silicon-carbide coated fuel piles in different control rod shapes.  21st century materials and fuel pile design is critical to small modular reactors – quite literally.  These can’t melt and explode whatever happens.  The nuclear pile can not get hot enough – physics says – to melt silicon-carbide.

Helium cooling instead of water means the module can be placed nearly anywhere Powering 100’s of 1000’s  of homes using existing nuclear waste for fuel.

http://www.ga.com/advanced-materials

The General Atomics version is the Energy Multiplier Module – EM2.  It is a version of their helium cooled research reactor.  Helium cooling instead of water means the module can be placed nearly anywhere.  I’d put them into disused mine shafts.  The 3% fission product waste is useless as fission bomb material – but hot enough for a few hundred years to be a concern if released.   Blow the entrances and let the terrorists negotiate to be dug out.

The fuel pile can burn undisturbed for 20 or 30 years – and then be taken away and recycled – adding additional fertile material –  and removing a few percent of light fission product in an airox process.

EM2 fuel cycle

The left bar is the creation of a monster in a criminal waste of a natural resource.  Fission products decay and lose heat in 100’s of years rather than 10’s of 1000’s.

em2-waste-reduction

The fourth objective – after safety, waste and proliferation is cost.  If’n it doesn’t work commercially it don’t work.  Below is estimated costs of 8 advanced reactors in the US.  On average a sizable cost reduction for these simpler, smaller, safer products.

https://www.innovationreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Advanced-Nuclear-Reactors-Cost-Study.pdf

General Atomics isn’t one of the 8 – but gives their break even point with natural gas as $6-7/MMBtu.  The US natural gas price is down a little to $2.67 – with a domestic glut and export control.  Australia has an expensive regional gas price – it is tied to the price of our gas in Japan.  That’s a greenie over supply problem.  We could be frakking the hell out of things.  So for most of the world – these are looking cost competitive for obvious reasons.  And more so as energy demand multiplies in the next few decades and fossil fuels are finite and ever more problematic.

These SMR’s have the reverse problem of wind and solar – wind and solar don’t have enough power most of the time.  SMR have too much power most of the time as demand rises and falls.  SMR provide opportunities for other uses of heat and power.  Catalyzing production of hydrogen and oxygen from superheated steam.  Making liquid fuels from hydrogen and CO2.  CO2 from air, electricity plants or cement and steel makers? Fossil fuels do have an innate supply and demand constraint.  Fossil fuel prices get higher over time as demand increases and finite stocks are utilized.  If there is something else far safer and easier at lower cost?  There is no question.

 

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