May 20, 2010
Small Nuclear Reactors Under Development

Several start-up and existing companies are developing smaller sized nuclear reactors.

While utility-scale reactors cost about $2.3 billion apiece and produce 1.2 gigawatts of power, Hyperion’s price tag is $50 million for a 25-megawatt reactor more comparable to a diesel generators or wind farms.

Transportable by truck, the units would come in a sealed box and work around the clock, requiring less maintenance than a fossil fuel plant, the developers say. They’d cost 15 percent less per megawatt of capacity than the average full-scale atomic reactors now in on the drawing board, according to World Nuclear Association data.

“A 25-megawatt plant would put electricity into 20,000 homes, and it would fit inside this room,” James Kohlhaas, vice president at a Lockheed Martin Corp. unit that builds power systems for remote military bases, said in an interview. “It’s a pretty elegant micro-grid solution.”

Smaller nukes lend themselves better to mass production techniques. Another big advantage is that they are easier to cost estimate with precision. The biggest risk in developing new big nuclear reactors is cost overruns during construction. Utilities are afraid to build reactors given a history of multi-billion dollar construction cost overruns. Small reactors both lower the amount of money at risk and reduce the absolute risk by making reactor construction more routine and done at much fewer sites.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 May 20 11:13 PM  Energy Nuclear

random said at May 21, 2010 7:53 AM:

"Manufacturers of refrigerator-sized nuclear reactors will seek approval from U.S. authorities within a year..."

They've been talking small nuclear reactors for years, but this is the smallest I've ever heard. The last interesting idea was sealed units the size of a semi-trailer that could run for 10-15 years without maintenance. They would be essentially throwaway units that could be buried or disposed of as is.

These small units makes a fair amount of sense, especially for municipal power companies that only serve a few thousand homes & businesses. Hopefully it actually happens.

LL said at May 21, 2010 8:12 AM:

I like this technology a lot. I think it can be applied everywhere not just the remote regions but also large cities like NYC where it can power a large building or possibly and office park.
This would greatly reduce the strain on the grid since the power is being produced right where it is being used. This would be great for datacenters and essential goverment functions like FBI and Hospitals that would be at risk during a blackout. Backup generators have limited run capacity and are very dirty.
I can totaly see one of these used to power the Burj Dubai or whatever its called now. This would also be great for powering desalination plants where water is scarce and for heavy manufacturing plants that tends to burn lots of coal and natural gas.

Chris T said at May 21, 2010 10:34 AM:

This would make maintanence much less costly as well due to standardized parts.

Jim said at May 21, 2010 10:35 AM:

Hmm, only 50 million. Should be able scratch that up quick enough...

Nick G said at May 21, 2010 3:22 PM:

While utility-scale reactors cost about $2.3 billion apiece

That seems mighty optimistic. If Hyperion can really do $2/W, they'll have a winner.

Small reactors both lower the amount of money at risk and reduce the absolute risk by making reactor construction more routine and done at much fewer sites.

Surely they'd reduce that godawful 10 year project timeline, as well. That would save a lot, in a lot of ways.

One problem: isn't the NRC about 5 years behind in reviewing new designs?

Chris T said at May 21, 2010 3:58 PM:

"isn't the NRC about 5 years behind in reviewing new designs?"

They probably forgot they were even reviewing any.

Engineer-Poet said at May 22, 2010 12:49 PM:

And the Obama budget slashes the NRC budget, which would delay things even more.

One issue nobody's mentioned is that the all-up-front fueling model of Hyperion means a big spike in demand for uranium and enrichment services; they may have to run their own fuel cycle.  I've had no time to look at their cost figures to see if they account for this.

anonyq said at May 23, 2010 9:50 AM:

Problem with small reactors is security costs. That is why i don't see how those small reactors can be a winner.

Francis Macnaughton said at May 23, 2010 11:40 AM:

The NRC published a statement on licensing these type of reactors as one of their "For the record" items in 2008 and there are no updates I can find on the site

That suggests it is going be a while before any are going to be licenced.

Wolf-Dog said at May 23, 2010 11:37 PM:

But apparently Hyperion flaked out, and postponed its original plan to market the uranium hydride based reactors that are supposed to burn 50 % of the non-fissile uranium, and their current generation of reactors will instead be uranium nitride fueled, lead-bismuth cooled reactor, which will still better than pressurized water reactors, but not as revolutionary as the uranium hydride design.

Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner said at May 24, 2010 2:20 PM:

We get good pay and lifetime benefits whether we produce any results or not. I say sit tight and don't take any risks. If you do nothing, then nothing will go wrong. That way you can't be blamed. Life's good.

Doug said at May 31, 2010 2:51 PM:

If a municipality could borrow the fifty million at 4.5% (just a plug figure) for 20 years using its tax free bonding power, I get a monthly payment (I know, I know, you don't pay off muni bonds monthly, I just want to match vs. revenues) of $316,325.

If you serve twenty thousand homes, and derive revenues of $250 per average home (today's dollars) you get monthly revenue of $5,000,000. That means lots and lots of money available for land, labor, insurance, other overhead, graft, patronage and other political pilferage too! Woo-hoo! You might even be able to fund the pension plan!

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