NuScale’s small reactor recently reached an agreement with the NRC to install it in the US. (Image Credit: NuScale)
Nuclear energy is on the path toward making a big return now that carbon emissions need to decline. Nuclear reactors, for that purpose, present a viable solution now that worldwide nations are aiming to meet energy requirements. Recently, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reached an agreement with NuScale to certify the first small modular nuclear reactor, leading to its first installation. NRC says this is the seventh certified nuclear reactor but the first small one to reach that milestone.
Small nuclear reactors are an excellent option to help address larger reactors that take up more land and time. Small reactors are still in the design and testing phase, which also means it could be a while before they’re deployed.
Although traditional nuclear reactors are built on-site, NuScale has a different approach in mind. It involves mass-producing its reactors before transporting and assembling them on a power generation site, where they operate. Each reactor has a modular design measuring 65 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. Overall, one reactor produces 50MW of power, and a power generation plant with four to twelve modules generates 600MW of power.
These reactor modules are required to stay underwater and can shut down without an operator or power requirement in case an emergency ever occurs. If that happens, the reactor turns off the feedwater and steam exit valve while opening another set of valves for core depressurizing and circulating the steam into the containment vessel. Each reactor is stored inside a massive concrete water tank that withstands earthquakes and other impacts.
NuScale says mass-producing the reactor combined with minimal land space for the power generation site could lead to more affordable installation and operation costs of the nuclear facilities. However, the company still needs approval from the NRC before deploying its design on the field.
The company plans on installing the first six modules at the Idaho National Laboratory with the Carbon Free Power Project, generating power for forty years. These modules will be online by 2030. Meanwhile, the NRC plans to overlook the site’s operations.
Speaking of nuclear power, former SpaceX employee and current Radiant Nuclear CEO Doug Bernauer created a small nuclear fission reactor generator. His goal is to provide a solution for increasing energy demands. Approximately the size of a standard container, the power plant can be deployed anywhere without worrying about costs or land space.
Bernauer came up with this idea while working on a SpaceX project involving power distribution to a human colony on Mars. However, it also meant the ground facilities needed to be sustained. Plus, spaceships would have to travel from the Earth and Mars to refuel the facilities.
Nuclear energy offered the ultimate solution for that ordeal. However, humanity hasn't reached that stage yet. In the meantime, we can just deploy that invention on Earth. Union Square Ventures granted Radiant Nuclear $10 million in funding to develop the first portable, carbon-free power source. The prototype testing stage could start just five years from now.
Overall, the reactor can generate 1MW of power, which is sufficient for 1,000 homes over eight years. Additionally, this reactor is safer than water-cooling atomic generators due to its high-tech engineering. This year, the company wants to develop a helium compressor to add and remove helium in the reactor before delivering it to other equipment. "The pump is driven by a shaft that's floating on two magnetic bearings. It outputs 75 kilowatts of power and goes over 10,000 rpm," says Bernauer.
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