Rule Five Micro-Nukes Friday

Here is some more information on small modular nuclear reactors; these could revolutionize energy provision in many ways, some of which we’ve discussed before.  Excerpt:

Actually – small nuclear reactors are not new. We have been using them on nuclear submarines and other vessels for years. What is new is commercial SMRs for grid power. I could not find any in operation currently. The US company NuScale, has approval for a design and could be operational by 2026. They estimate the electricity costs at $65 per MW hour, which is not far from the current costs of solar at $60, and offshore wind at $50. Of course, wind and solar prices are dropping, but the hope is that economies of scale will also drop the cost of SMRs.

There are also potential advantages of SMRs over renewable and traditional nuclear power plants. Regarding renewables, while the prices are dropping now once we saturate the grid with renewable energy, something like 30% penetration, in order to increase the grid share of power from renewables you need some combination of two things, grid storage and overcapacity (sharing energy across the grid). The latter also requires a massive grid update. So the effective cost of renewables will start to skyrocket. The solution is to make up the rest of our energy infrastructure with on-demand energy sources. We can try to maximize hydroelectric and geothermal (which are geographically limited), but for now that means fossil fuel or nuclear.

So realistically, over the next several decades at least, the real choice we face is not between nuclear vs renewables, it’s nuclear vs fossil fuel – and I think the answer here is a no-brainer (I will return to this below).

What are the potential advantages of SMRs over traditional larger nuclear plants? According to a US government analysis:

Advanced SMRs offer many advantages, such as relatively small size, reduced capital investment, ability to be sited in locations not possible for larger nuclear plants, and provisions for incremental power additions. SMRs also offer distinct safeguards, security and nonproliferation advantages.

It’s important to note a couple of things here.

First:  The United States has already gone cleaner, carbon-wise, than almost any other nation on the planet.  How have we done this, given the opposition to nuclear power?  Mostly with natural gas, of which the United States has become a major producer due to advanced drilling and fracking technology.  The major offenders of carbon emissions – if you accept that it’s a problem – are India, China, Russia and some of the other developing nations.

And these kinds of reactors could help them as well.

Consider the advantages of a modular reactor that could be delivered over regular railroads or highways on a flatbed rail car or tractor-trailer.  If difficult terrain they could even be flown in.  These could bring power to remote villages, say in the Chinese hinterlands, Siberia, or even Alaska and norther Canada, and deliver cheap, clean electricity to areas that are now either going without, or are dependent on extensive power lines which run from coal-fired power plants.

The article further points out:

In this countries (sic) we have two main political parties, one largely ignored the science on global warming, and the other largely ignores the science on nuclear energy. The Democratic candidates range from Sanders, who would phase out nuclear quickly, to Yang, who is the only one who would expand nuclear. The others are all weak on nuclear, and would either “wean” off, or not expand or build any new plants, letting existing plants sunset. This is the politically safe thing to say on the left, but it’s not reality.

That last sentence is something of an understatement.

The political Left, not only in the United States but in the EU nations and the rest of Europe, have been rabidly anti-nuke for some time.  As reactor technology continues to improve, this opposition will grow more and more nonsensical – which doesn’t mean they’ll stop.

Progress (real progress, not “progressive” progress) waits for no man – or political party.