Executive Intelligence Review


Energy Department Takes Two Steps Forward, One Step Back on New Nuclear Reactors

Jan. 2, 2018 (EIRNS)—World Nuclear News reported that the U.S. Department of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 21 on the use of 2 of the 12 modules of a demonstration small modular reactor project planned for Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The third partner, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), plans to replace aging coal-fired plants with a plant having 12 reactor modules of the firm NuScale, each with about 70 MWe. The site is the INL, the expected date of operation 2027. The memorandum calls for two modules of the demonstration plant to provide electric power for the INL, itself, and for experimentation with energy sources.

UAMPS is a State of Utah department that provides wholesale electric energy, transmission, and other energy services to community-owned power systems throughout the Intermountain West.

The Energy Department is not funding the construction or operation of the modular reactors; but it has expedited the design certification for NuScale’s small modular reactor by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is now scheduled to complete the second phase of review, the safety evaluation, by August 2020, followed by approval of NuScale’s application for production of the SMRs.

The Energy Department is also funding, with a $40 million grant, development of an “advanced nuclear power reactor” by Bill Gates’ company TerraPower, which calls it a “travelling wave reactor.” Gates put out a New Year’s blog statement bewailing climate change, but proposing “advanced nuclear power” as the solution superior to wind or solar power, and urging “U.S. leaders to get in the game” on it. TerraPower’s reactor is called a fourth-generation liquid sodium-cooled fast (breeder) reactor. Its cooling by molten salt would allow operation at significantly higher temperatures with less maintenance than water-cooled reactors, ideal for providing heat to industrial and/or chemical processes.

However, Terra Power just abandoned a 2015 joint project with China National Nuclear Corp. to build a prototype 600 MWe reactor unit in Xiapu, Fujian province, during 2018-2025 2025. It was abandoned due to restrictions on U.S.-China technology transfer by the U.S. DOE.