Mini-Nuclear Reactors Are Coming, and They Could Reinvent the Energy Industry

Pat, we have a reactor trip on Unit 5. Containment
is isolated. Demon water is isolated. CVCS is isolated. DHR is in service. And pressurizer
heater trips has occurred. All safety functions are green. Understand. We’ve got a reactor
trip on Unit 5 and all safety functions are green. That’s correct. Ryan, can you take
over the plant response to Unit 5? You’re in the middle of a simulated reactor trip. Something happened that’s causing an emergency shutdown. Ryan
I have acknowledged the alarms. Understand that you’ve acknowledged the alarms. This
demonstration took place at NuScale, a next generation nuclear power company that wants
to operate a string of up to 12 small reactors from a single control room. And their new
model might just revive the nuclear power industry. When you think nuclear, you might
imagine a plant like this: enormous cooling towers, generators, steam billowing out the
top. They’ve been a part of our energy mix for decades all working to harness the
power of splitting uranium atoms. Or in other words: Nuclear power, to put it simply, is
the most complicated way to boil water. What you’re trying to do is to take the energy
that’s produced by splitting uranium nuclei and convert it into steam. That steam then
goes to a turbine which turns a shaft which then turns a generator to produce electricity.When
the splitting happens, it produces radioactive materials. Much of the nuclear plant is really
focused on trying to make sure that these radioactive materials never escape out into
the biosphere. There are hundreds of reactors boiling water across the globe, and you might
actually be living near one. But the nuclear industry today is experiencing some major
shifts. The 3 Mile Island and Fukushima disasters prompted countries like Germany and Switzerland
to dismantle their nuclear power infrastructure. Despite efforts from Russia and China to kick-start
new projects, global construction is currently on a down-swing. Here in the U.S., aging
reactors are retiring, and Westinghouse, one of the biggest names in nuclear, recently
filed for bankruptcy. The argument the nuclear industry used to make is that even though
nuclear power plants are expensive to build they are cheap to operate and therefore profitable.
That equation has changed in the last seven or eight years. There have been a combination
of two things that have been happening. One is that as these plants’ age, the cost of
keeping them operational has been increasing because simultaneously and more importantly,
the cost of alternative sources of energy has declined dramatically. The second thing
I would say is that, the argument used to be, oh, we’ve learned a lot from mistakes
in the past. We will be able to lower the cost and how fast these reactors are built,
and that has not happened. The South Carolina project was so expensive, the company pulled out of it after spending about $9 billion, that’s essentially been abandoned. The Georgia plant is now running
at around $25 to $27 billion, compared to a few billion dollars that was the initial
expectation. I think the result of that is nobody in their right mind should be thinking about building another large nuclear plant in the country. It’s a tough situation,
especially with reports of rising CO2 emissions and calls for alternatives to meet climate
goals. And that’s where these next generation reactors enter the conversation for
multiple countries. Hoping to solve the problems of cost and scale,
this new nuclear fleet are called SMRs or Small Modular Reactors. Small in
this context just means it’s producing less than 300 megawatts of electricity. The plants
that were being built in South Carolina, the ones being built in Georgia generate about
1,100 megawatts of electricity. Modular means that you can make these things in a factory.
You’re manufacturing all your high quality components in parallel you’re doing all your
civil construction on site. You’re making the pool, you’re building the building. And
then when the buildings are done, you transport the modules to the site and you install them.
Beyond these two there’s really nothing that constrains you about the design of the
reactor. There are literally dozens and dozens of SMR designs. Portable nuclear power has
a back to the future feel to it. Pursued since the Cold War, several designs have found their
way inside nuclear submarines and university labs. After decades of attempts, SMRs haven’t been the mainstream source of power for local communities just yet, but that might change with NuScale. This all started with a project
that was funded by the Department of Energy back in 2000. We were working with the Idaho
National Laboratory at the time and we came up with this concept for something small that
could be built in a factory. So inside our modules, we start off with the containment
vessel. It’s about 76 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, it’s big cylinder. Inside
that containment vessel the reactor vessel houses the fuel, the steam generator. It’s
a helical coil steam generator. Everything you need for power to produce steam is inside
that one little vessel. Now the containment and the reactor vessel sit underwater below
ground. And you can add on, two, three up to 12 modules in a single pool. So it’s scalable
because you don’t have to add them all at once, you can do them in increments. Each
module will produce about 60 megawatts electric. If you think about homes, it’s somewhere around
fifty thousand homes would be powered by one module. There aren’t any additional cooling
pumps or generators that could fail in an emergency, a lesson learned from previous
disasters. Because a key element NuScale really emphasized with us, is safety. Passive
safety really describes the ability to perform a safety function without power. For our
design, the reactors will safely shut themselves down without any operator action or computer
action, without any AC or DC power, and they’ll remain cooled for an indefinite period of
time, without the need to add water. When you lose power, the control rods actually
fall into the reactor vessel into the core and they’re held up normally by electromagnets.
So you lose power, they disengage and they fall. So you go from two hundred megawatts
thermal to about 10 or 11 megawatts in a second or so. If you look at the control room here,
you’ll see that a lot of things that we do really don’t require operator action at all.
All the procedures come up on the screens themselves and they help you execute the procedures,
and they’ll help correct you if you make a mistake it’s a smart control room. Which
all seems quite miraculous — to have a nuclear control room run mostly on its own. NuScale’s
timeline has more tick marks ahead. Their plant operations are still just on paper or
at prototype stage. They’re aiming to turn on their first commercial plant near the Idaho
National Laboratory by 2026, which brings the project full circle. We finished our
design certification application. It’s a pretty comprehensive checklist, so application
alone was 12,000 pages. We’re on track to get this design certified with the final safety
evaluation report coming out in September of 2020. So, that’s the target. And within
their application, NuScale is asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a different
kind of zoning boundary. In the United States, there’s a requirement that you have an emergency
planning zone around your plant and that zone is a 10 mile radius. The reason we can request
a smaller emergency planning zone is because of the very high level of safety that we offer.
If we go back to their animation, the reactor’s sitting in a pool that’s below ground with
a biological shield on top of that and in a seismic category which is earthquake proof, hurricane proof type building. In our analysis, we show that we don’t exceed regulatory doses under the worst case accident conditions at the site boundary so that changes the game significantly in that we can be in closer proximity to population
centers. If you have an SMR and it has an accident, it would have less amount of radioactive
material to disperse it would have less energy to disperse. These are laws of physics in
certain complicated circumstances that are hard to predict in advance. If you think about
the kind of accidents we’ve seen in the past it is almost always been a bunch of circumstances
which nobody had envisioned. If you’re thinking about the community and you go and
say, “Look, we want to build this nuclear plant near you but there is a small chance
that something might go wrong it’s quite possible you might have to leave your house
and never come back because it’s going to be contaminated with radioactivity. How do
you feel about it?” Quite a few people would say, “No, I don’t think I would want that. Despite
this risk potential, the hundreds of reactors operating worldwide have had a pretty safe
track record, and overall have caused less loss of life than coal or natural gas. The
design & safety of future reactors in the US are assessed by the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission. But there’s some context to this agency that bears keeping in mind: The
NRC’s fortunes, in a sense, depend on the industry that it is regulating. If the nuclear
industry were to essentially shrink and vanish, the NRC would essentially have to vanish too.
The NRC and NuScale have been talking to each other for years now and trying to say, “Okay,
here’s our rules. Here’s how you interpret these rules. Here’s how we can modify our
design. All of which does not seem to me to be a thoroughly independent process. There’s
been a reported history of regulatory capture in the nuclear industry, but it shouldn’t
come as any surprise. What entity other than a state government can take on the capital
and risk associated with investing in nuclear? Government funding does play an important
part. The question, of course, to ask is whether the government should be spending its money
on this pursuit. Of course, that’s a different question. The new nuclear power movement
is appealing to governments who see the potential: One module could produce 60 million gallons of
clean desalinated water per day. So a 12 pack would be enough to provide all the water needs
for a city the size of Cape Town South Africa. On the flip side, SMRs could exacerbate
pre-existing geopolitical tensions. China has said they are also developing SMRs. The
first place that they want to deploy are on these deserted islands, in the South China
Sea that are in disputes. If you’re concerned about proliferation, then SMRs are not small
in any meaningful sense. With these forces ahead, eyes will be on NuScale as  they work
to reshape the industry and roll out what they are betting on to be a smart, scalable
model of nuclear power. Their hope is that a safer design, an automated control room, and other key features will overcome the hurdles that caused previous ventures to fail. However,
there are still open questions over nuclear waste, protecting against proliferation, and how a truly passive nuclear plant operates in real time. But until this model is put to the test, the ultimate question
for nuclear – of whether smaller really is better – remains an open one.

100 Replies to “Mini-Nuclear Reactors Are Coming, and They Could Reinvent the Energy Industry

  1. Great! Let's disperse the potential hazard everywhere, that will make it safer and surely more efficient

  2. Big infomercial propaganda… this is the same old same old only dispersed and with their power to lobby and control they'll get their way, unless the citizens take a stand. "New nuclear power movement", what movement. It's a corporate movement! They've got the money to produce a video like this and the mega power of billions of dollars to do more. Don't buy it! I'm surprised Nuscale allowed comments with this. In Australia scientists created a solar panel the size of a paperback novel that produces as much as the larger panels of today! Let's move toward a green generation! Trump and Republicans are doing their best to reverse such energy.

  3. If I had a dollar every time some keyboard warrior mentioned Thorium under the nuclear related YouTube video I could buy Microsoft.

  4. The primary reason for cost overruns is because of repeated, unnecessary, environmental challenges brought by environmental extremist groups. The fact that these challenges can stall or defeat multi-billion dollar energy investments is insane.

  5. well in finland we have been building the worlds most expensive nuclear reactor for 20 years now and i would like to see them build more.

  6. if thunderbolt project get more funding we might get new understanding of how inner working of physics in universe.

  7. I wonder how much it cost to adapt a 1260 MW PWR like Angra 3 in order to use the halted building adapt it to use SMR.

  8. Ive been theorizing myself for a while. I wonder if a man made element can be created that would only radiate infrared, hot enough to boil water but not unstable to create radiation.

    Maybe an element that vibrates but doesnt lose nuclei material. The vibration will be high enough to create heat maybe 300 degrees or more or a little less but not violent enough to lose matter thus no radiation.

    I don't know it thats possible but i hope my research can see if its possible. If its possible then we can literally never need nuclear material except for nuclear weapons and other stuff. We can have clean energy literally clean energy no meltdown no waste no storage etc etc

  9. 300mW versus 1000mW means we need 3 times the reactors with mean we are tripling the chance for failure, the area of effect will be smaller but there will be more accidens! But the question is why are we sill talking about nuclear power?

  10. So this isn't going to use a thorium- molten-salt-based reactor?

    Guess the main reason that Thorium isn't being used is because they're not telling the full-story here. The full story being that the US is going to be using these types of mini-nuclear reactors to build the next generation of nuclear weaponry,,

  11. The design is bad if they fall the rods could stay in the top position and still be working and if the pool of water is drained due to an earthquake then the minireactor would melt. I still approve nuclear power over oil!

  12. meanwhile in my country electricity is handled by just one state company, they monopolized it and charged a high price while the service quality is suck

  13. This seems to get rid of a lot of the cons about nuclear power. Now they just have to make them small enough to chuck them clear out into space with a catapult when they're spent, on a trajectory where they'll eventually fall into the Sun.

  14. LFTR's are the future. no expensive refining, Burn existing waste. Enough waste to power the world for 200 years.

  15. Switzerland still has Nuclear Power Plants running today but are going to be phased out in the next 10 years. They haven't been dismantled yet.

  16. -> SL-1 accident, 1961. Same concept as this. Ended in disaster. Many smaller reactors? Many smaller disasters. Except any sort of a nuclear disaster never ends up being a small one.

  17. Disappointed that they "forgot" that it was Political Regulations and insane Taxes that killed the two nuclear plants that were being constructed, NOT Engineering shortcomings.

  18. He is wrong about the NRC having to go away if Nuclear Power Plants go away. The NRC regulates much more than power plants. Radiographers, sterilization irradiators, medical uses of radio isotopes and more.

  19. We could but AGR are big and expensive and aren't very efficient. They still use scarce uranium and are still pressurised so the potential for a leak still exists. Better than HPW .we also have to decommission them all in the fairly near future.

  20. So Candu reactors have had this safety feature for decades of shutting down automatically when a lack or power due and therefore not allowing meltdowns.

  21. I don't know about this.
    I was in Japan, near Fukushima during and after the accident.
    I believe 137- Cesium is fissile in my body. Because its half lifetime is 30 years. I never measured though.
    It's too dangerous to handle it.
    Fukushima is never recovered and Abe administration is lieing.
    Do you really want to send your kids to the Tokyo Olympic Game in 2020? Some of the game will be paying near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and the government has plan to serve Fukushima agricultural products to the players.

  22. What about the NuScale MSR in the White Sea. Putin claims contamination could reach fours corners of Earth. Very bad melt down.

  23. War. War never changes.

    In the year 1945, my great-great grandfather, serving in the army, wondered when he'd get to go home to his wife and the son he'd never seen. He got his wish when the US ended World War II by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The World awaited Armageddon; instead, something miraculous happened. We began to use atomic energy not as a weapon, but as a nearly limitless source of power.

    People enjoyed luxuries once thought the realm of science fiction. Domestic robots, fusion-powered cars, portable computers. But then, in the 21st century, people awoke from the American dream.
    Years of consumption lead to shortages of every major resource. The entire world unraveled. Peace became a distant memory. It is now the year 2077. We stand on the brink of total war, and I am afraid. For myself, for my wife, for my infant son – because if my time in the army taught me one thing: it's that war, war never changes.

  24. How does SMNR efficiency compares to a regular monolithic reactor? I'd guess that it generates less power per kilogram of fuel.

  25. what you earthlings need is a ZPM, A zero point module is powerful enough to power an entire city and even power the city to travel across the stars.
















  28. $90/MWh?? And there are people out there who actually believe this makes economic sense? If SMR's cannot deliver electrical energy at a cost below $20/MWh with all included (fuel, buildup, decommissioning…), it is doomed. Renewables today are going far below $90/MWh delivered. Portugal recently set a record at less than €15/MWh (around $17/MWh): This price evolution is not going to stop.

  29. 5:57 A little confused here. Sure you can insert the control rods, but you will still have many elements in the fuel decaying for days after an emergency shutdown that will produce heat that needs to go somewhere (even the chart shows as much). Is there just a large enough volume of water in the pool vs. a small enough core that this can be done without boiling the water in the containment vessel? Nothing he said is actually an explanation of why they don't need cooling water.

  30. People : scared of nuclear reactors because IF something goes WRONG they will be harmed
    coal : while working ACTIVELY and NORMALLY causes harm

  31. Nuclear power is already dead! A failure causes billions of dollars and the waste is deadly for thousands of years. It isn’t profitable if you have to spent billions for a storage space

  32. Mini-Nuclear Reactors Are Coming, and They'll Soon Be Forgotten About With a Very Low Chance of Being Picked Back Up years Later

  33. That's cool. But how about nuclear wastes problem? Will we still just bury them in a ground and left there for a hundreds of years, hoping nothing will happens?

  34. Sounds like more nuclear waste when they're struggling already about no more space to contain nuclear waste . Unless it's less radioactive . It's same thing . Build a hugh reactor vs build multiple small reactors . Nuclear wastes that's coming out from it about the same

  35. And we still do not know what to do with nuclear waste. But hey! we can build a lot of small reactors that are safe.

  36. I feel that, even though we have had some nuclear power plant disasters in the past, that as long as nuclear plants are regularly inspected and have good ways of containing the reactor, that it is a good way to produce electricity rather than burning fossil fuels.

  37. NuScale is just one of many SMR designs. One in Ottawa Terestrial Energy is a good design. The simplest designs i like are the ones that just make heat. One can heat the West Edmonton Mall they have hot tubs in the swimming pool water slides . great when its minus 40 outside.

  38. The astroturfing comments on this video are as productive and as useful as an underground nuclear waste storage facility.

    I don't want nuclear. Sorry to the people who spent all that time going to college to get a degree in nuclear engineering that are trying to apply it to fission. But not a single argument from either side of the issue is one that will sway taxpayers from the consequences suffered from catastrophe, misinformation, and poor management of the technology. It is not worth it simply because it might fit the immediate energy needs and employ a select few people with the degrees necessary to work at these facilities.

    I want the money that would be invested in nuclear fission to be invested in fusion, solar, water and wind sources of energy. Period. I also think a proactive approach to our consumption of energy is far superior than lining the pockets of some contractors with silver in short term gains, rather than using that silver for long term solutions created by changing poor energy habits.

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