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Puerto Rico’s Transformation Could Begin with Building Small Modular Reactors, Study Finds

May 23, 2020 (EIRNS)—In September–October of 2017, Puerto Rico was slammed by two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes—Irma and Maria—which devastated the island and wiped out its decrepit electric grid. The system was “rebuilt” with a patchwork of solar panels and renewables that power “micro-grids,” combined with small, sometimes-dangerous generators providing continuous power only on a local level to hospitals, water treatment plants, community centers, and individual homes.

These have done nothing, however, to solve the fundamental problem of creating a safe, reliable power grid. To wit: The Jan. 7, 2020 earthquake, 6.4 on the Richter scale, threw the island into darkness once again.

Now, a study conducted by the non-profit Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP), financed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, shows that installation of small modular reactors (SMRs) on the island could serve as a first step toward resolving its energy problems.

The study points out that the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which depends on old, obsolete equipment, has still not recovered from the 2017 hurricanes. Today, Puerto Rico’s power outage rates are 12 times higher than the average on the U.S. mainland, and electricity rates are astronomical, due to the import of fossil fuels needed to fuel power plants.

The NAP estimates that SMRs and microreactors can support the required retirement of 74% of PREPA’s currently aging generation fleet and the efficient installation of new capacity to ensure a reliable grid and power supply.

In contrast, PREPA’s Integrated Resource Plan calls for the island to have new solar storage and natural gas capacity in the order of 3,000 MWe by 2025, 40% renewable energy generation by 2025, 60% renewables by 2040, and 100% renewables by 2050, as World Nuclear News reported on May 21.

Building SMRs should be only the first step to totally rebuilding Puerto Rico and uplifting its impoverished population, which could be done in the context of the Schiller Institute’s proposed global reconstruction program, including linking it to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal completely transformed Puerto Rico’s economy, beginning in 1935, through the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration, following the two devastating hurricanes of 1929 and 1932. This can and must be done again, now based on a higher technological platform.

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