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Biofuels NuScale Power Module

Published on July 31st, 2008 | by Rod Adams

21

NuScale Power and Hyperion Power Generation – Nuclear Power Systems That Are Not "Extra Large"

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July 31st, 2008 by  

NuScale Power ModuleOne of Al Gore’s frequently used sound bites to explain his skepticism about the potential for nuclear power to address energy and climate change challenges is that the plants come in only one size – “extra large”. The last time I heard him say those words was during an interview by Katie Couric just a couple of weeks ago.

Web denizens, Navy submariners, former Army Nukes, and others have always recognized that the former Vice President’s comment does not provide a full picture of the possibilities. While it is certainly true that vendors like GE, Areva, Rosatom, Siemens, and Mitsubishi have chosen to limit their model line-up to the very largest plants, the technical fact is that nuclear reactors have always been available in multiple sizes ranging from petite to XXL.

Aside: Toshiba – the majority owner of Westinghouse – is unique among the major vendors for its range of models from the 10 MWe 4S, to its participation in the 165 MWe PBMR, to its support for the international 335 MWe IRIS to its large AP-1000 and ABWR.)

I am an advocate of the idea of building much smaller nuclear plants than traditionally built by the major suppliers. Their choices have been justified by an adherence to “the economy of scale”, but I believe in the economies of mass production. By building small machines, one can do the same task repeatedly, gaining learning and achieving efficiencies that are not possible in a construction process that builds one machine at a time in a process that takes five – eight years to complete.

The idea of modular reactors is catching on. In the past two years, two start-up companies, Hyperion Power Generation and NuScale Power have received venture funding for projects aimed at much different markets and economics than those eyed by the established vendors.

Hyperion’s basic unit is described as 25 MWe with the heat source unit sized so that it can be transported intact on a ship, truck or train. According to the company’s web site, the modules will be approximately the size of a “hot tub” with a diameter of just 1.5 meters. The system uses technology that was originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratories and licensed by the company for commercial development.

According to the company web site, the heat source has no moving parts and can be delivered from the factory in a sealed unit that does not need any on-site access. The company claims that the waste volume produced during five years of operation is approximately the size of a softball. (Note: I am skeptical about this particular claim. It does not match with my knowledge of nuclear engineering, but I am willing to be corrected.)

NuScale Power has developed a natural circulation light water reactor with a nuclear steam supply system that is in a 60′ by 15′ cylinder. It is designed to be prefabricated and shipped by rail, truck or barge. It is small enough so that NuScale will not have to wait in the Japan Steel Works pressure vessel line – there are plenty of manufacturers in the world that can produce that size of pressure vessel.

The natural circulation cooling means that the heat supply system does not need pumps, pipes or auxiliary equipment. It also does not need a backup power supply.

The system grew out of a DOE funded effort at Oregon State University (OSU) (corrected from initial post) called MASLWR (Multi-Application Light Water Reactor) that was developed to enable smaller markets to gain access to the benefits of nuclear fission energy – zero emissions, independence from fossil fuels, greater reliability, and increased levels of technical employment.

After the initial federal research grants ended and OSU published its results in 2003, the University continued funding the research and made continued improvements and refinements to the design. Several patents were filed in November 2007 and the company received its initial round of venture funding in January 2008.

NuScale’s employee roster is full of OSU graduates. It is also teaming with Kiewit a well established architect engineering firm with a history that dates back to before the depression.

One interesting factoid – Peter Kiewit Sons’ Construction Company was the prime contractor for the construction of SM-1A, a 4 MWe nuclear plant at Fort Greely Alaska for the US Army. That contract was awarded in April, 1958.

NuScale Power made a series of presentations to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on July 24, 2008. PDF versions of these presentations are available from the company home page. The handout materials include an introduction to the company, an overview of the design, a discussion of the licensing approach, identification of pre-application discussion topics and a brief about some of the legal issues associated with the plant licenses.

Both NuScale and Hyperion have successfully made the case to private investors that small nuclear plants offer something to the world market that does not currently exist – an emissions free, reliable replacement for diesel generators, small coal fired steam plants, and combustion gas turbines.

In the markets where these companies plan to compete, power prices are often in excess of 25 cents (US dollar cents) per kilowatt-hour. In most of the target markets, oil is the main source of electrical power, which makes entire economies dependent on the global market price fluctuations in the petroleum market. Wind, solar or biomass systems are often not an option due to land availability, weather patterns or food production needs.

Disclosure: I am the founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. a company that has been seeking to build small, simple nuclear plants since its inception in 1993. I also publish Atomic Insights and produce The Atomic Show Podcast.

Image credit Courtesy of NuScale all rights reserved.

Corrected copy: When this was first published, I mistakenly credited the wrong university with the NuScale system development. The work was done at Oregon State University, not the University of Oregon.

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About the Author

loves and respects our common environment, but he has a fatal flaw in the eyes of many environmentalists -- he's a huge fan of atomic energy. Reduce, reuse, and recycle have been watchwords for Rod since his father taught him that raising rabbits is a great way to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer for backyard fruit trees and vegetable gardens. They built a compost heap together in about 1967, when he was 8 and when Earth Day was a mere gleam in some people's eye. During his professional career, he has served in several assignments on nuclear submarines, including a 40-month tour as the Engineer Officer of the USS Von Steuben. In 1994, he was awarded US patent number 5309592 for the control system for a closed-cycle gas turbine. He founded Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. in 1993, started Atomic Insights in 1995, and began producing the Atomic Show Podcast in 2006. He is currently an active duty officer (O-5) in the US Navy. He looks forward to many interesting discussions.



  • MAO Benson

    Very well pleased at the development on modular/small power generating plants. For me, this is the future power business. If solutions is scaled downward futher it will bring direct benefit to the individual and enlighten people better on the dynamics of nuclear solutions.

  • MAO Benson

    Very well pleased at the development on modular/small power generating plants. For me, this is the future power business. If solutions is scaled downward futher it will bring direct benefit to the individual and enlighten people better on the dynamics of nuclear solutions.

  • Henry Gibson

    The weight of the fission product per house per year is about seventy grams. The fuel used including the recoverable U238 is about ten times this much. .HG..

  • Henry Gibson

    The weight of the fission product per house per year is about seventy grams. The fuel used including the recoverable U238 is about ten times this much. .HG..

  • Dan Rogers

    I was struck by Dave Thomson’s statement that “The Saudis are rolling in cash with few places to invest for long-term gain.”

    That statement was made in September. Now it’s November and the fire sales on all the stock exchanges around the world are still going on strong! So the Saudi Arabians now have PLENTY of places to invest for long-term gain.

    Those crude oil people are really very lucky, aren’t they? Things are shaking out for them almost as if the whole scenario was planned in advance.

    Step one: jack up the price of oil to an unbelievable high.

    Step two: accumulate as much money as you can for the fire sales that are bound to occur.

    Step three: when the high petroleum prices finally result in recessions in the industrialized nations, and stock prices there plummet, come in at the bottom and start buying up industries at bargain prices.

    But that smacks of paranoia and conspiracy theory, right? It’s not as if there’s a cartel at work.

  • Pingback: Hyperion Power Generation Delivering First of 4000 Reactor Modules in June 2013 : CleanTechnica

  • Dave Thomson

    While America refuses to generate electricity using nuclear power, Saudi Arabia is getting on board. It was curious that we entered into a new agreement to provide nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia at about the same time that George Bush was over there begging them to open the oil spigot. Was there a deal made between Bush and the Saudis to sell them the nuclear technology in return for help with the current fuel crisis?

    But why would the Saudis need nuclear power plants? For investments. The Saudis are rolling in cash with few places to invest for long-term gain. They also have a very well-educated and underutilized professional class. World demand for energy can go nowhere but up. The solution? Saudi Arabia becomes a worldwide financier and builder of nuclear power plants – with desalination as a side option. Unfettered by American environmental stupidity, they could mass-produce barge-mounted plants of standard design and tow them into place anywhere accessible to the ocean. It’s an approach Westinghouse tried to sell in the 1970’s. Standardized design, serialized production, and freedom from US environmental ninnyism would drop the cost of pre-fab nuclear plants substantially.

    And what better place to put the pilot plants than at the north end of the Sea of Cortez? Sheltered from tropical cyclones by Baja California, free of oppressive American environmental regulations, and with a ready customer for the generated power in Southern California, this is a natural. The Mexican government could get a cut of the take in a sale/leaseback arrangement, and everyone would win. The Saudis would get a money-making long term investment and could become the world leaders in the design and operation of these plants and the host country would get a reliable source of power on the installment basis.

    And, if the US refuses to sell the Saudis the technology, the French certainly will.

  • Dave Thomson

    While America refuses to generate electricity using nuclear power, Saudi Arabia is getting on board. It was curious that we entered into a new agreement to provide nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia at about the same time that George Bush was over there begging them to open the oil spigot. Was there a deal made between Bush and the Saudis to sell them the nuclear technology in return for help with the current fuel crisis?

    But why would the Saudis need nuclear power plants? For investments. The Saudis are rolling in cash with few places to invest for long-term gain. They also have a very well-educated and underutilized professional class. World demand for energy can go nowhere but up. The solution? Saudi Arabia becomes a worldwide financier and builder of nuclear power plants – with desalination as a side option. Unfettered by American environmental stupidity, they could mass-produce barge-mounted plants of standard design and tow them into place anywhere accessible to the ocean. It’s an approach Westinghouse tried to sell in the 1970’s. Standardized design, serialized production, and freedom from US environmental ninnyism would drop the cost of pre-fab nuclear plants substantially.

    And what better place to put the pilot plants than at the north end of the Sea of Cortez? Sheltered from tropical cyclones by Baja California, free of oppressive American environmental regulations, and with a ready customer for the generated power in Southern California, this is a natural. The Mexican government could get a cut of the take in a sale/leaseback arrangement, and everyone would win. The Saudis would get a money-making long term investment and could become the world leaders in the design and operation of these plants and the host country would get a reliable source of power on the installment basis.

    And, if the US refuses to sell the Saudis the technology, the French certainly will.

  • Pingback: PBMR Contract - 4th Generation Nuclear Power Plant by 2014 : Red, Green, and Blue

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    timbuktu:

    Thank you for the comment and for the link. Very interesting article about distributed generation and the way that it mimics natural systems.

    I guess I am just a small minded person. I like systems that are simple and understandable and I definitely like power plants that are small enough to inspect in just a few minutes. It makes it easy for operators to know their plant and recognize potential issues before they become big ones.

    It is also nice when there are a variety of sources for power, none of which is critical by itself.

    With small nuclear plants, it is possible to use such concepts as cogneration or combined cycles and it is easy to see that the need for transmission and distribution systems can be minimized.

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    timbuktu:

    Thank you for the comment and for the link. Very interesting article about distributed generation and the way that it mimics natural systems.

    I guess I am just a small minded person. I like systems that are simple and understandable and I definitely like power plants that are small enough to inspect in just a few minutes. It makes it easy for operators to know their plant and recognize potential issues before they become big ones.

    It is also nice when there are a variety of sources for power, none of which is critical by itself.

    With small nuclear plants, it is possible to use such concepts as cogneration or combined cycles and it is easy to see that the need for transmission and distribution systems can be minimized.

  • http://myblog.rsynnott.com Robert Synnott

    “High scale usage would only pollute more” – erm, how polluting, exactly, do you think nuclear energy production is at the moment? The mining is, to an extent, but far less so per watt than coal, gas, oil or solar, surely?

  • http://myblog.rsynnott.com Robert Synnott

    “High scale usage would only pollute more” – erm, how polluting, exactly, do you think nuclear energy production is at the moment? The mining is, to an extent, but far less so per watt than coal, gas, oil or solar, surely?

  • timbuktu

    Interesting article, thanks Rod! I must admit that I was relatively unaware of the smaller-scale options for nuclear power generation. There’s some unexplored potential here I think. Your advocacy for these smaller reactors would fit right along with some interesting theories about smaller power plants ultimately being the most efficient system for any infrastructure:

    “Electric Power Plants – Size Matters”

    http://www.brightfuture.us/new/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=27

  • timbuktu

    Interesting article, thanks Rod! I must admit that I was relatively unaware of the smaller-scale options for nuclear power generation. There’s some unexplored potential here I think. Your advocacy for these smaller reactors would fit right along with some interesting theories about smaller power plants ultimately being the most efficient system for any infrastructure:

    “Electric Power Plants – Size Matters”

    http://www.brightfuture.us/new/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=27

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    Ken:

    Thank you for your comment. Actually, I did – very briefly – mention the IRIS up in the aside about Toshiba.

    Ovidiu – I used to go to sea in a sealed ship that used a nuclear reactor power source. Compared to the fossil fuel alternatives, it sure seems green to me.

    Since I know a good number of people in their 80s and some in their 90s that have been professionally involved with nuclear energy for their entire careers and since I have read a good number of carefully designed and peer reviewed studies, I am not sure what you mean by your statement that the “risk is too high”.

    Facts and history are hard to overcome; nuclear fission technology has a 50 plus year record that supports its claim to being safe, green and nearly completely emission free.

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    Ken:

    Thank you for your comment. Actually, I did – very briefly – mention the IRIS up in the aside about Toshiba.

    Ovidiu – I used to go to sea in a sealed ship that used a nuclear reactor power source. Compared to the fossil fuel alternatives, it sure seems green to me.

    Since I know a good number of people in their 80s and some in their 90s that have been professionally involved with nuclear energy for their entire careers and since I have read a good number of carefully designed and peer reviewed studies, I am not sure what you mean by your statement that the “risk is too high”.

    Facts and history are hard to overcome; nuclear fission technology has a 50 plus year record that supports its claim to being safe, green and nearly completely emission free.

  • http://www.greenoptimistic.com Ovidiu

    What do you find so “green” in nuclear power? The risks are too high for it to give it full trust and dig for uranium. High scale usage would only pollute more.

  • http://www.greenoptimistic.com Ovidiu

    What do you find so “green” in nuclear power? The risks are too high for it to give it full trust and dig for uranium. High scale usage would only pollute more.

  • Ken

    I have withdrawn my support form We Can Solve it because of their opposition to nuclear power. This is naive and dangerous and shows that Al is a politician and is no scientist. If these people honestly think we can actually generate base load from condensed solar, they’ve been eating too many of those brownies out back. After hearing his comments about nuclear I actually had a momentary thought that maybe it would not have been better in 2000 if he had been elected, then I came to my senses.

    These small reactors get better and better upon examination. Economies of scale can be applied. The new scale reactor can also be run on Thorium Power’s low waste proliferation resistant fuel according to the company. There is another reactor that you didn’t mention that a consortium lead by Westinghouse and the DOE called IRIS.

    http://www.gnep.gov/gnepSmallScaleReactors.html.

    These are modular in design and run at around 300 MW. These would represent an intermediate between the EPR and AP1000 types and the NuScale, SSTAR, 4S and Hyperion small scale reactors. Pebble bed reactors nearing commercialization in South Africa and being worked on by the DOE, University of Texas and Thorium Power in the States are another exciting option. One of the most exciting though it the Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor. This can be scaled from 10 to 2000 MW. It can be modularly designed and produced. The Fuji MSR is an example of a prototype that has run recently in Japan. These reactors can also be used to destroy transuranic waste from current spent fuel stock piles returning power to the grid. They operate at atmospheric pressure and they are extremely passively safe.

    See the presentation that Kirk Sorenson recently gave at NASA’s Glenn Research Center:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=842

    Thanks for the article!

  • Ken

    I have withdrawn my support form We Can Solve it because of their opposition to nuclear power. This is naive and dangerous and shows that Al is a politician and is no scientist. If these people honestly think we can actually generate base load from condensed solar, they’ve been eating too many of those brownies out back. After hearing his comments about nuclear I actually had a momentary thought that maybe it would not have been better in 2000 if he had been elected, then I came to my senses.

    These small reactors get better and better upon examination. Economies of scale can be applied. The new scale reactor can also be run on Thorium Power’s low waste proliferation resistant fuel according to the company. There is another reactor that you didn’t mention that a consortium lead by Westinghouse and the DOE called IRIS.

    http://www.gnep.gov/gnepSmallScaleReactors.html.

    These are modular in design and run at around 300 MW. These would represent an intermediate between the EPR and AP1000 types and the NuScale, SSTAR, 4S and Hyperion small scale reactors. Pebble bed reactors nearing commercialization in South Africa and being worked on by the DOE, University of Texas and Thorium Power in the States are another exciting option. One of the most exciting though it the Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor. This can be scaled from 10 to 2000 MW. It can be modularly designed and produced. The Fuji MSR is an example of a prototype that has run recently in Japan. These reactors can also be used to destroy transuranic waste from current spent fuel stock piles returning power to the grid. They operate at atmospheric pressure and they are extremely passively safe.

    See the presentation that Kirk Sorenson recently gave at NASA’s Glenn Research Center:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=842

    Thanks for the article!

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