Going nuclear… power that is – TTG


For the last 20 years, the future of nuclear power has stood in a high bay laboratory tucked away on the Oregon State University campus in the western part of the state. Operated by NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, this prototype reactor represents a new chapter in the conflict-ridden, politically bedeviled saga of nuclear power plants.

NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors. (Wired)


This sounds promising. The complete NuScale reactor is the size of two school buses can can be transported in three pieces by barge, rail or highway. It reminds me of the Russian nuclear power barge Akademik Lomonosov now on station in the Russian Arctic… only better. That barge uses two nuclear ice breaker reactors to produce 70 MW of electricity. The NuScale reactor produces 60 MW. Ten NuScale reactors can be put in the footprint of a containment vessel of a standard current reactor, but what’s the point of that? They should be deployed to communities as decentralized power sources mitigating the need for long distance transmission lines.

Obviously even these small reactors are too much for the hard core global warming crowd. I don’t see why. I count myself as part of the “Laudato Si” crowd and I’m all for these reactors and their decentralized deployment. It beats coal and even natural gas. They are proven and more reliable than current renewables. Besides, the manufacture of photovoltaic cells and batteries is not all that green. Even so, I’m looking forward to VW’s new electric microbus.  





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37 Responses to Going nuclear… power that is – TTG

  1. turcopolier says:

    How is this different from the nuclear reactors that run ships or the little rover on Mars?

  2. Factotum says:

    Nuclear power has to be at the table. Every alternative energy source has drawbacks. Put nuclear back into the discussion so we can put nuclear problem-solving back on the table too.

  3. There are a lot of similarities. The NuScale reactors do use the best of available technology. They are self-contained, can be mass produced, use less and less refined fuel, and use no pumps for reactor cooling. The biggest difference I see is the possibility of cost effective, decentralized deployment. The existing power companies and the old line nuclear industry probably are more threatened by these small reactors than the global warming crowd.

  4. Factotum says:

    Off topic: Talk about going nuclear – Judge Sullivan turns down Sidney Powell (Honey Badger) request for Brady docs and will now subject Gen Flynn to sentencing for “lying” and also acknowledging Flynn’s prior guilty plea. Why did he do that, if he was not guilty even if coerced in some sort of federal setup. Some federal insiders are getting very, very nervous and circling the wagons right now.

  5. steve says:

    The hardcore climate change crowd is different than the anti-nuclear crowd. There is some crossover in the non-scientist group. If you read the climate science people, the scientists, they have been skeptical about nuclear in the past because of its costs and long lead times for construction. These small reactors may resolve that, though there is actually surprisingly little literature published on this, or so says the “physicist” in the family. Still may have NIMBY issues. We need some communities to commit to trying these out.

  6. Sbin says:

    Compact very hugh density power source, energy storage commercial
    And residential scale as well as renewable s should be the way going forward.

  7. srw says:

    One of the most interesting nuclear projects is a thorium based nuclear reactor that uses molten salts as its heat exchange medium. One such reactor is ThorCon, a mass produced fission reactor with a liquid molten salt fuel containing thorium+uranium.
    The benefits:
    Cheaper, thorium is cheaper than uranium 235. No costly zirconium clad uranium rods, the reactor uses a mixture of thorium, uranium 235 to get fission started in a mixture of lithium and thorium fluoride salts.
    Safer, the molten salt heat exchange medium is fail safe, no pressurization or zirconium clad uranium rods that product hydrogen gas when heated too high.
    Higher thermal efficiency.
    Shipyard type of mass production reduces costs.
    Small size, 250 MWe or less
    Other comments:
    China, Canada, and the Netherlands are researching thorium type reactors.
    Why now? Thorium type reactors were researched over 40 yrs ago by the US. The US went with pressurized water reactors because pressurized power generation was the standard back then. Also, uranium 235 reactors produced plutonium 239 which was used for nuclear weapon manufacture.

  8. crf says:

    Probes and rovers use the thermoelectic effect to generate electricity from heat given off during the decay of a highly radioactive isotope of, for example, plutonium.
    Reactors on ships often use highly enriched uranium (a high ratio of U235 to U238) in a water-cooled reactor.
    Nuscale uses lightly enriched uranium, like most other power plants, other than CANDU, which can use natural uranium.

  9. walrus says:

    There is still the issue of security to be solved to preclude the possibility of deliberate interference. Furthermore, Fukushima tells us that these reactors must be protected from all forms of natural disaster – earthquake, fire and flood.

  10. Walrus, the NuScale reactor is touted as being quite safe. When things turn to shit, the reactor core shuts down by itself. The molten salt technology claims the same. The hardest task is to convince the people who live around such a reactor of their safety.
    Just upriver from me is the Possum Point power plant. I passed it every morning and evening on the commuter train to DC. It was originally coal fired and has since been converted to natural gas and oil. The coal ash pits still sit directly on the bank of the river. Dominion Energy still doesn’t know what to do with them. Those pits scare me more than the nuclear plant I lived near in Germany.

  11. Srw, the thorium and molten salt technology is very promising. I think there’s still some technical hurdles to get over before such a reactor is ready for prime time. Seems one of the biggest hurdles is a lack of investment.

  12. Factotum, I imagine Larry or Willmann will address this before long. I don’t know if Flynn hurt his effort to stay out of jail with his legal counteroffensive or not. It couldn’t have helped. I think Flynn took the guilty plea for lying to the FBI to avoid other charges like FARA violations. The lying conviction will only bring days of prison if any. The problem is what it could do to his retired officer status.

  13. Stephen McIntyre says:

    multiple experiments with modular small reactors in 1950s and 1960s. Modular reactors were even installed at Camp Century, Greenland and in Antarctica. See:

  14. Larry Kart says:

    Judge Sullivan today:
    “To evaluate Mr. Flynn’s requests, the Court divides them into six categories, acknowledging that there is some overlap within certain categories: (1) information that does not exist; (2) information that is not within the government’s possession; (3) information that Mr. Flynn concedes he is not entitled to; (4) information that the government has already provided to Mr. Flynn; (5) information that is unrelated to the charges against Mr. Flynn in this case or to his sentencing; and (6) remaining requests.”

  15. Stephen McIntyre, the 1960s were a heyday for “atoms for peace.” I learned the story of the Sturgis when the launching of the Akademik Lomonosov was publicized. The Sturgis was a liberty ship that was converted into a floating nuclear power plant at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. She supplied power to Fort Belvoir for a time before being towed to Lake Gatun to power the Panama Canal. My oldest son says there’s a plaque at Belvoir where the Sturgis was moored.
    I also got some irradiated midget watermelon seeds from the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC. They grew well and tasted great. The rinds were very thin. I don’t know if that was due to the irradiation or if it was just common to that variety of watermelon. We didn’t think twice about eating them though. Between the irradiated watermelons and our constant air raid drills, we sure had a weird relationship with nuclear technology back then.

  16. JamesT says:

    TTG & Srw,
    I think thorium is a good backup fuel but we have lots of Uranium so I don’t see why we would be going to thorium just yet. I am very much in favour of nuclear power (and consider anyone concerned about global warming who opposes nuclear power to be an idiot), but I’ve read some pretty scary stuff about what happens when molten salt reactors meltdown.

  17. PavewayIV says:

    At one time, the NRC inspector ranks were filled by many top-notch Naval Reactor people and ex-USN nuke sailors. The kind of people who didn’t take any BS from stingy utility operators when it came to cutting corners on safety. Probably something to do with the few years that Navy nukes spent sleeping 50 yards away from the reactor(s) they maintained that powered their ship or sub.
    That’s all changed today. Few ex-Navy guys want anything to do with the DOE or NRC. Inspector morale has been low and getting worse. NRC whistleblowers have their lives and careers destroyed. The best ex-Naval inspectors have been quitting the NRC in droves rather than tolerate the corruption (which the NRC denies). NRC inspectors are not part of the NRC upper management and never will be. That Regulatory Capture Club is reserved for the revolving door elite types that jump back and forth between nuclear industry executives and NRC regulators. Any promise of safe nuclear energy today in the US is gone forever. It’s like trusting either the FAA or Boeing to fix the 737 MAX problem when they’re responsible for creating it.
    Will NuScale reactors be safe? Will they find a safe place to squirrel away those spent 289 fuel rods pulled every two years from each reactor? The first NuScale plant at Idaho National Labs will have 12 SMRs – they have no plans for the first (or second or third) batch of 4500 spent rods besides hiding them in a giant cooling pool on site and eventually dry casking. Then its the taxpayers’ problem. Fuel recycling will never happen – it’s so uneconomical and produces so much waste that its just cheaper to make new rods and bury the old ones. Ask the French.
    To make matters worse, the Idaho National Labs site for NuScale’s first 12 SMR plant is a bad location of epic proportions. It sits at a major recharge site of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer – the largest in the west. A billion acre-feet of water, and the sole source of drinking water for a fifth of the state. SMRs have a low likelihood of meltdown, but (like other reactors) contaminated cooling water loss isn’t that uncommon. There’s nowhere to dump it at NRL – if it’s not contained, it goes down into the aquifer. It’s an incredibly bad location, but NRL is giving the land to NuScale for free. I’m sure that has nothing to do with any shady federal political connections or transfer of liability to the taxpayers. How could NuScale refuse such a deal?
    We could really use something like SMRs. I just don’t trust the chimps at DOE, NRC or NuScale to work in anyone’s best interests besides their own. They’re setting this whole thing up for disaster by their own arrogance and incompetence, and nobody will ever be held accountable if things go south. Maybe I’m just too gloomy and things will be different this time. Just like at Boeing.

  18. Jack says:

    All those screaming about climate change should be on the nuclear energy bandwagon. There are several technologies that reduce the half-life of radioactive waste substantially that also operate at low pressure. And can consume existing spent fuel.
    Bill Gates backed company TerraPower and another company Terrestrial Energy are developing the technology for Molten Salt Reactors. GE-Hitachi have their sodium-cooled reactor.
    IMO, the US government should acquire at least 100 GW of electricity from nuclear reactors within the next decade using these new technologies. It would be a pittance compared to the trillions we waste in regime change wars, and it would move the needle to a more clean and electric future. Nuclear is the way to go for clean base load.

  19. JJackson says:

    The designs I have seen are fail-safe – unlike high pressure systems. They employ a Thorium plug which has to be cooled to stay solid – if there is a problem the plug melts and the fuel flows into a holding vessel where the reaction stops. Waste products are much shorter lived Isotopes. The other advantage is the heat generated which can be used directly without the need to convert it to electrical power via turbines.
    The other half of the problem is storage and here I like the molten salt battery technology. This is not much good on a small scale but in conjunction with a low pressure high temperature Thorium reactor would work very well for load balancing. Batteries need to be liquid if you are to avoid their degradation with each charge/discharge cycle – an unavoidable consequence of damage to the crystal structure in solids which is exacerbated by rapid discharge or charge.
    TTG I am not sure why you are lumping those who view Anthropomorphic climate change as real in with those who try and block nuclear power. I believe the climate change threat is real and that nuclear power is an essential replacement for fossil fuels. I do not want to see any more pressurised water reactors built as, if the safety systems fail a la Fukishima, you get a run away reaction. You can not get around the fact that Uranium based nuclear reactors can make useful products for bombs or that the waste is very unpleasant and extremely long lived.

  20. JJackson, like you I accept the evidence for anthropomorphic global warming. Our burning of fossil fuels is causing a dangerous imbalance in atmospheric CO2. Despite the fact that current renewable energy source technology cannot meet our energy needs, I see most of those who see the dangers of AGW eschewing nuclear energy as a solution. It seems to as much a left/right issue as AGW itself. I don’t know why they refuse to see nuclear power as a real solution, but they do. That denial is just as dangerous as AGW denial.

  21. Paul Merrell says:

    Not before nuclear waste disposal has an acceptable solution, which is probably impossible.

  22. Fred says:

    The idea is intriguing. The fuel cell people having been saying the same thing but they’ve been trying to make those fit into a car rather than be used for distributed power operations.
    Acording to the Wired article it has been in operation 20 years, though that doesn’t appear to be the case. That would make this more than 20 year old technology. There is zero mention of how it was operated. Ramped up to full load and run until the fuel mixture burned up to the point of needing refueling or movement of the fuel cells to even the flux distribution in the reactor core? Something different? What is the maintenance process, for example fixing a steam generator tube leak? These limited images show no isolation valves so you can’t take on SG off-line and find and plug the leaking tube without taking the reactor off-line. How is the water chemistry handled? Staff training? Both are rather important questions.
    And commercially, what is the cost comparison to a combined cycle natural gas plant? 70MW is not going to generate a hell of a lot of revenue. A useful idea but they are probably looking for something along the lines of disaster recovery rather than base-load generation.

  23. Paul Merrell says:

    Just to demonstrate their lack of intellectual capacity, Idaho National Labs personnel for decades disposed of nuclear wastes by deep-well injection directly into the Snake River Aquifer. Cleanup is still under way. See https://www.id.energy.gov/News/SnakeRiverPlain.pdf (pdf).

  24. JJackson says:

    When I have discussed nuclear power with those opposed, who actually knew enough to have to be taken seriously, their concerns were around safety. Firstly they did not trust the commercial operators not to fudge problems which would be very costly to fix and they did not trust the regulators to have enough independence to be able to force all the safety systems they wanted to be implemented. A close look at the negotiations leading to 3 mile island’s commissioning give credence to the second fear – a bit like Boeing and the FAA. The other concern related to the dual use ability of the fuel processing system in that it can be used to make nuclear fuel or weapons grade U235. Uranium 233, which is actually the fissile material in a Thorium reactor, can not easily be turned in to U235 which would have done wonders for the NPT. There are various reasons why funding for Thorium dried up and was redirected into U235 reactors but one was the military’s desire for U & Pu for weapons for which Thorium was no use. Had we looked further ahead at the time and Thorium designs were offered to countries who signed the NPT then problems like Iran would not occur – if you are spinning up Uranium centrifuges then you can’t claim to be making reactor fuel.

  25. A. Pols says:

    Nuclear waste disposal isn’t really a problem other than politically and that’s because the anti-nuclear crowd uses that as their trump card by opposing any proposed disposal methods such as deep burial, etc. If they accede to the viability of a disposal method it undercuts their no nukes position.

  26. Dabbler says:

    My guess, as a result of living in the Tri-Cities near the Hanford Site in Washington is that our area would be quite open to serving as a test site if the state would let us. In fact, we may have appropriately designated areas available.

  27. Norbert M Salamon says:

    TTG: thanks for exposition of the new development in the USA nuclear power generation issues.
    Nuclear power generation is a necessity in the age of decline of fossil fuel created base power supply.
    To wit: nuclear power [be it miniature, molten salt, thorium or other ] can operate 24/7 which is not possible with wind, tide, or sunlight systems.
    The technical problems are solvable, the problem lies with the anti-nuclear propaganda inspired resistance in the western [read OECD] countries.
    Both China and Russia are doing major new installations and development of non hot water based systems.

  28. Fred says:

    ” non hot water based systems “? How many hydro plants are they building? How much capacity will they have and how does that compare to the 121 gigawatts of coal under construction?

  29. Stephen McIntyre says:

    I visited the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC as well. Didn’t get any irradiated watermelon seeds though.

  30. Peter Williams says:

    Never heard of Synroc? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synroc

  31. Fred says:

    Food irradiation has been around for a long time. It hasn’t quite taken off commercially. Gamma radiation from cobalt 60 is what was being used in the plant built in Florida when I was in grad school.

  32. JJackson says:

    Fred this will answer many of your questions.

  33. JJackson says:

    The thin skins were not due to the irradiation. While it is theoretically possible, if skin thickness is controlled by a single gene and it can be changed by one or two single nucleotide mutations, it is unrealistic to think exactly same event happened in all the seeds.

  34. Norbert Salamon says:

    Sorry Fred was not clear,
    I was referring to nuclear power generation plants without using water within the reactor. There is gas based units in India, research on molten salt, breeder reactors[I do not know how they work in Russia, etc.
    Yes I am aware that China is building hydroelectric dams which also work 24/7 [most of the time].

  35. Fred, that irradiation killed off bacteria on the food to preserve it. I think I remember some camping food that used the process. The irradiated seeds were a nuclear roll of the dice to delight us kids who dreamed of growing some wild genetic mutation. Feed me, Seymore!

  36. JJackson, I’m sure that’s true. Even as a kid, I had the sneaking suspicion that all midget watermelons of that variety had thin skins. But the thought of growing radiation induced mutants was exciting to a young kid. Encouraging that kind of excitement is how you produce curious explorers. Like I told Fred, feed me Seymore!

  37. FYI the Russian floating plant just produced its first power in Chukotka (which is about as isolated a place as can be found)

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