Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Right Size Reactor and the Human Future

Sandia National Laboratory is the latest entrant in into the small reactor game. The Sandia “right-sized reactor” concept was discussed on Next Big Future yesterday, and was mention by"Axil" in an Energy from Thorium discussion several days ago, so this is not exactly a scoop. Sandia is interested in a range of reactor sizes from Mini reactors generating around 40 MW of electricity to a small reactor capable of generating up to 125 MW of electricity.
A smaller scale, economically efficient nuclear reactor that could be mass-assembled in factories and supply power for a medium-size city or military base . . . an integrated design that incorporates intrinsic safeguards, security and safety. . .
According to Sandia Reactor developer Gary Rochau,
“This small reactor would produce somewhere in the range of 100 to 300 megawatts of thermal power and could supply energy to remote areas and developing countries at lower costs and with a manufacturing turnaround period of two years as opposed to seven for its larger relatives,” Sanders said. “It could also be a more practical means to implement nuclear base load capacity comparable to natural gas-fired generating stations and with more manageable financial demands than a conventional power plant.”
Sandia appears to be planning a small. liquid metal fast reacctor,
The reactor system is built around a small uranium core, submerged in a tank of liquid sodium. The liquid sodium is piped through the core to carry the heat away to a heat exchanger also submerged in the tank of sodium. In the Sandia system, the reactor heat is transferred to a very efficient supercritical CO2 turbine to produce electricity.

These smaller reactors would be factory built and mass-assembled, with potential production of 50 a year. They all would have the exact same design, allowing for quick licensing and deployment. Mass production will keep the costs down, possibly to as low as $250 million per unit.
Although the $250,000,000 price was mentioned in the Sandia press release, in a separate presentation, Tom Sanders, Vice President/President Elect American Nuclear Society, who leads the Sandia development team, discussed an even more ambitious goal of $1.5 Million per MW of generating capacity. The Samders presentation acknowledged, that the Right Size Reactor can be based on either a Liquid Metal design or a "modified" Molten Salt Reactor. LFTR advocates often suggest that a 100 MWe LFTR would be a good size compromise.

I was not the first to develop the small, factory manufactured reactor concept, as the key to low cost energy scalability, but I have been perhaps the most vigorous advocate of that construct for the last two years. Now reactor designers and would be manufacturers appear to be testing the waters for for such reactors, and this is to say the least an encouraging development. If Sandia can develop a small, mass produced reactor that can sell for $2000 per kW, then we have the soluti0n to most post carbon energy issues. If Sandia can develop a small reactor that sells for $1500 per kW, then Katie bar the door! With either an an IFR or a LFTR right size reactor, fuel cost would be virtually a thing of the past, and there would be enough fuel to supply all of the world's energy needs for hundreds of millions of years. We will be opening the floodgates for the rapid development of the energy poor nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The Right Size Reactor would be a technological fix, that would require little or no "social engineering", but would have revolutionary implications for the human future. As Tyler Hamilton noted, small reactors are:
Efficient. Flexible. Safer. Transportable. Scalable. Swappable. In the world of nuclear energy, small could end up becoming the new big.
And indeed in the world of human well being and prosperity, small nuclear could be the biggest thing there is.


LarryD said...

Britain is going to need some of those. As it stands, Britain will be short of generating capacity in 2015, by 3GW hrs per year.

crf said...

It was this Tyler Hamilton who said that about small nukes, in this Toronto Star column.

Charles Barton said...

crf, I know all about it. I commented on Tyler:
"Tyler in not really interested in whether the problem of nuclear waste is real, or if it whether the alleged problems of nuclear power can be solved. Like most Collective foxes, Tyler clearly loathes nuclear power and and wants to have nothing to do with it. Tyler is in the eyes of the nuclear hedgehogs not a fox at all, rather he is an ignorant ass, who is satisfied to remain ignorant about the possibility of making nuclear power our big trick. Should we suffer fools like Tyler gladly when his ignorance puts the future of humanity at risk?"


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