25 June 2011

US Regulatory Bottlenecks Force Nuclear Development to Move Overseas

"Right now, the regulatory environment here in the U.S. means that it would take decades just to certify the design," he said at a U.S.-China energy summit last year. "By partnering with the Chinese, they can move ahead and commercialize the technology around the world when it is proven," Huntsman said. _NYT
The nuclear licensing process for new reactors in the United States has grown so cumbersome and expensive -- and the US NRC under Obama has become so obstructionist toward new nuclear power -- that some of the newest and most promising new, scalable reactor startups are looking overseas for development and manufacture.

Last year Hyperion Power announced plans to manufacture its small modular reactor (SMR) in the UK, and now Terrapower -- backed by Bill Gates -- is negotiating with potential partners in France, India, China, and Russia, to build its cutting edge breeder reactor technology.
"We've had conversations with the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians, the French," Reynolds said in an interview. "We have an aggressive schedule where we think it is important to get something built and accumulate data so that we can eventually build them in the U.S. Breaking ground in 2015, with a startup in 2020, is more aggressive than our current [U.S.] regulatory structure can support."

In addition to its unique fuel cycle, the TerraPower design employs a high-temperature, liquid metal core cooling technology suited to a breeder reactor with "fast" neutron activity, rather than today's predominant reactors whose water cooling systems slow neutrons. TerraPower wants to partner with countries that are actively pursuing fast, breeder reactor technology. "That isn't here right now," he said, referring to the United States. _NYT_via_NBF
A number of different approaches to scalable nuclear fission have been proposed by US companies, but under President Obama the regulatory climate toward all forms of reliable energy production is extremely bleak. Hence the interest in building the revolutionary, safe, new, scalable designs overseas in an energy-friendly climate.

More on SMRs:
No bigger than a double-wide trailer and built in a factory for a fraction of the cost of a large nuclear plant, the small modular reactor (SMR) is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to help meet growing demand for electricity.

SMRs have the potential to replace older coal plants and to provide a hedge against volatility in natural gas prices. And while solar and wind are attractive energy sources, both produce power only intermittently and require back-up power in the event the weather is not cooperating.

Established nuclear-energy companies engaged in the development of SMRs include Westinghouse, General Electric, General Atomics and Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox. But the field also includes some smaller start-ups such as NuScale Power in Oregon, Hyperion Power Generation in New Mexico and TerraPower, based on the outskirts of Seattle and established with support from Bill Gates.

...In contrast to a conventional nuclear plant, SMRs could be added one at a time in a cluster of modules, as the need for electricity rises. The cluster's costs would be paid for over time, softening the financial impact. The modules could be factory assembled and be delivered by rail to an existing nuclear plant site. In such a configuration, one SMR could be taken out of service for maintenance or repair without affecting operation of the other units.

Most SMRs would be situated beneath the ground to provide better security. Typically they would operate for many years - possibly decades - without refueling and produce far less waste than conventional reactors.

Significantly, almost all of the SMR development is being done with private financing. Companies are using their own resources to develop the small reactors, without government support from mandates or subsidies of the sort that renewable energy sources now require. An SMR designed by Babcock & Wilcox would generate 125 megawatts, using conventional light-water reactor technology. The Tennessee Valley Authority is considering deploying six of the Babcock & Wilcox modules at its Clinch River site near the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Another SMR on the drawing board would be an advanced, sodium-cooled "fast" reactor producing just 25 megawatts - enough electricity to power a rural community or a military installation. Hyperion Power Generation has formed a partnership with the Savannah River National Laboratory to build a sodium-cooled reactor as part of a clean energy park near Aiken, S.C. _Newsobserver

Eventually the energy starvationists who have entrenched themselves in Washington DC will be forced out, and their current premises fumigated and disinfected with fresh, rational, and optimistic thinking regarding an abundant energy future.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy

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