Could every UK town have a small nuclear reactor?

Posted: July 31, 2016 by oldbrew in innovation, Nuclear power

Small modular reactors [credit: ANS Nuclear Cafe]

Small modular reactors [credit: ANS Nuclear Cafe]

Climate News Network reports on a possible alternative to the mega-sized nuclear plants of the last century.

The nuclear industry sees the UK as a springboard for its plans to expand in the next 20 years, especially as a pioneer in the deployment of a new breed of small reactors.

Despite the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union, the industry is confident that many small reactors will be built in Britain and that the country will become a showcase for the industry and an exporter of the technology. The ideal is for each town to have its own reactor.

The government-owned National Nuclear Laboratory says the industry worldwide will be worth £400 billion by 2035, and much of the development and new build will be in Britain. In a Nuclear Energy Insider poll, almost 70% of those in the nuclear industry thought this figure was realistic.

Although the UK government under a newly-appointed prime minister is still encouraging the French, Chinese, Japanese and US companies to build 10 giant new nuclear power stations of 1,000 megawatts or more, it is also running a competition to find the best small-scale reactor design and is investing £250 million in research and development of reactors of about 30 megawatts or less.

More than 80% of the nuclear industry regard this as a significant step towards making the UK a centre for this technology, but want yet more help. They want fast-track licensing for the new designs, reduced regulation, and a government-financed campaign to convince the public that small modular reactors are the future for energy.

They also ask that the “government change the public negative mindset to nuclear” and “stop putting money into unreliable renewable forms of energy”. This and the suggestion of “a level playing field between energy sources by phasing out subsidies” may amuse anti-nuclear lobbyists. They complain it is the subsidies to the nuclear industry in free state insurance, policing, research funding, and waste disposal that should be scrapped.

Full report: Could every UK town have a small nuclear reactor? | Climate Home – climate change news

  1. oldbrew says:

    2nd Annual Small Modular Reactor UK Summit – Oct. 2016

  2. oldbrew says:

    What is U-Battery?

    U-Battery is a micro nuclear reactor which will be able to produce local power and heat for a range of energy needs.

    The concept design was developed by the Universities of Manchester, Dalton Institute (UK) and Technology University of Delft (Netherlands) after the project was initiated in 2008 by URENCO, the energy and technology company.

    The plan is to have the demonstration U-Battery operating by 2024.

  3. RJ Salvador says:

    I have seen small reactors proposed in America and the question of security comes up. Few large reactors can be well guarded while with many little ones, some maybe vulnerable. It’s a very sensible approach as long as an idiot can’t get at it.

  4. Graeme No.3 says:

    How will they cope with the sudden influx of wind electricity and its rapid withdrawal?

  5. Kevin Lohse says:

    Fully agree with R J Salvadore. The security issues of protecting many small reactors would be horrendous. For a start, the idea of arming civilian security guards in a gun-phobic society would set up a media storm of hurricane proportions.

  6. thefordprefect says:

    helium coolant, tricky to contain.

  7. Curious George says:

    The U-Battery project was initiated in 2008. They plan to have a demonstration unit operating by 2024. £400 billion by 2035 is quite a leap of faith.

  8. Jay says:

    Is this concept related to Locheed Martin’s small fusion designs, or is it plain old fission?

  9. gallopingcamel says:

    The “Standard Candle” nuclear reactor is 1 GW. Such large machines have a couple of major disadvantages given that they are labour intensive and require a high voltage distribution “Grid”.

    The Oconee nuclear station has about six times more staff than the larger Martin county gas powered plant in Florida.

    High voltage grids are vulnerable to EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) events both man-made and natural:

    Both of these problems can be eliminated by building thousands of small NPPs (Nuclear Power Plants) that can be delivered to site on a single truck. On land such reactors can be built completely underground and intrinsically safe. There is even a design that can operate completely unattended and sealed for 20 years.

    There are ~500 ship born nuclear reactors today. A ten thousand tonne vessel could carry a 200 MWe ship that could deliver power to third world cities located around the world.

    Rolls Royce has an interesting design as does GE in the USA (PRISM). There are dozens of designs from David LeBlanc and others. I like MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors) in general and LFTRs (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) in particular. Generation IV MSRs can consume the “Nuclear Waste” created by Generation I& II reactors:

  10. Curious George says:

    Camel, I could not find data about the Martin County gas plant. Provide a link, please. You probably did not mean “Florida’s first hybrid solar/gas power plant creates 5,000 total jobs. The plant, in Martin County, Fla., combines 75 megawatts of solar thermal power with a traditional natural gas electricity plant to provide clean energy to 11,000 households per year.” Oconee supplies 2.5 Gigawatts, enough to power 1.9 million homes.

  11. Richard111 says:

    Nice one GC, thanks.

  12. Richard111 says:

    Ah! Thorium Reactors in Five Minutes twice! 🙂

  13. oldbrew says:

    Rolls Royce is in the frame.

    ‘Nuclear-powered submarines can remain submerged for long periods because of self–contained nuclear propulsion systems. Most, including Royal Navy submarines, incorporate a pressurised water reactor (PWR) to raise steam to drive turbines for propulsion and for on-board electricity production. For Britain’s latest nuclear-powered submarines, the Royal Navy is now using the second generation of a larger Rolls Royce PWR2 core that lasts four times longer than predecessors, eliminating the need for removal from service for mid-life refuelling.’

  14. oldbrew says:

    The case for small modular nuclear reactors in the UK

    ‘If you stack up the advantages it (SMRs) does make sense, the piece that is missing is the first mover. To realise the economy of mass production, those vendors who develop small modular reactors will need a line of customers.’

    Jumbo jet or Concorde?

  15. oldbrew says:

    Report: China’s nuclear power ambitions sailing into troubled waters

    ‘Two state-owned companies plan to develop floating nuclear reactors’

  16. ivan says:

    I have been saying this is the way to go since they started using reactors to power ships of all types.

    It just needs the government to give the go ahead and to strip out most of the totally unnecessary garbage from the approvals process. There is enough information available from their military use to know that people like RR know what they are doing with building them, we just need to remove the stupid environmental requirements and public enquiries.

  17. oldmanK says:

    Is the subject of this thread concerned with nuclear as a source of heat only? In which case converting that heat to electricity necessarily being subject to the law of Carnot -the carnot cycle. Which means small=inefficient.

    In warships that is of no concern. The tax-payer pays extra plus for that. But on a commercial basis its another matter. Inefficiency means more maintenance, more fuel and higher end-of-life costs.

    If conversion to electricity does not imply a steam cycle, then I stand to be corrected.

  18. JohnR says:

    The RR PWR2 reactor drives generators producing 20.5MW……just saying…

  19. oldbrew says:

    Reminding us that nuclear power is a big money game…

    ‘Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority “manipulated” and “fudged” a tender process for a £7bn contract to clean up the country’s nuclear power plants, the High Court has ruled.’

  20. oldmanK says:

    JohnR said “The RR PWR2 reactor drives generators producing 20.5MW”. A generator of 20MW is very small when driven by a steam turbine. It necessarily is inefficient. You do not want that when generating electricity on commercial basis.

    Then there is the risk which greatly can inflate the cost. See here for example:

    especially this “In January 2012 radiation was detected in the PWR2 test reactor’s coolant water, caused by a microscopic breach in fuel cladding. This discovery led to HMS Vanguard being scheduled to be refueled early and contingency measures being applied to other Vanguard and Astute-class submarines, at a cost of £270 million. This was not revealed to the public until 2014.”

    This has happened nearly everywhere, only we do not hear much of it. Luckily that was a very low cost.

  21. ivan says:

    @oldmanK, Yes efficiency may be poor but does that really matter? At the end of the day the only criterion boils down to just how much it costs per kWh to the consumer.

    If enough if these units are deployed then the cost per unit will reduce because of manufacturing efficiencies and we might end up with electricity that is too cheap to meter.

  22. oldmanK says:

    @ivan: If the ultimate aim is ” how much it costs per kWh to the consumer” then one has to optimise in every aspect, the main three i would put at 1) energy conversion efficiency, 2) optimal size (1x20MW and 1x200MW may not be so cost different, but will be for 10×20), operational and maintenance cost with many small units (and who would want one nearby?) and 3) cost of manning with properly trained staff.

    20MW is the size of a commercial diesel generator, and that for a relatively small city/community, when they are to removed to connect to a grid (and they usually shut down at night). That would be a headache for a nuke (I have never heard of that being cycled daily, but then i could very well be wrong) .

    My point: one would probably look into it more seriously if it was a washing machine for one’s own household. This is far more serious than that.

  23. […] Source: Could every UK town have a small nuclear reactor? | Tallbloke’s Talkshop […]

  24. steverichards1984 says:

    @ivan: yes efficiency does matter. A low efficiency nuclear plant uses more fuel and creates more waste than a plant with higher efficiency.

    A small number of large plants with a skilled workforce and good security will sort most of the UKs energy problems .

  25. ivan says:

    @steverichards1984. I agree that ultimately efficiency will be a factor but that is something for the future and will only come from experience gained on the ground.

    The first thing is to get nuclear generators up and running and supplying power. The generation after them will be much more efficient, and might even be thorium based.

    As it stands we don’t have anything thanks to the green blob dictating electrical non policy – that must change and the sooner the better. Small, drop ’em in and hook ’em up nuclear power units, could and should lead the way.

  26. gallopingcamel says:

    Curious George, August 1, 2016 at 4:03 am

    “Camel, I could not find data about the Martin County gas plant. Provide a link, please.”

    Here is the link you requested:

    Th Martin county plant is located near Indiantown, covering an area of ~20,000 acres. The output is ~3.8 GW or about 7% of Florida’s electricity consumption. The link includes a picture of the plant which includes two steamers in the foreground with 500 foot chimneys and four combined cycle plants on the right . In the background you can see 500 acres of CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) collectors.