Posted: March 10th, 2012 by Gadget42
The Obama administration’s Department of Energy, led by Steven Chu, has taken a “portfolio” approach to easing the country into a future in which we’re less reliant on fossil fuels. Instead of betting on a single technology to solve all our problems, the DOE has been pushing a mix of renewables, efficiency measures, and nuclear power. After having licensed the first new nuclear plant in decades, the DOE has now reached agreements with companies that are trying to develop an alternative to these large facilities.
Rather than building large, Gigawatt-scale reactor buildings, several companies are developing what are termed small, modular nuclear reactors that produce a few hundred Megawatts of power. These are typically designed to be sealed units that simply deliver heat for use either directly or to generate electricity. When the fuel starts to run down, the reactors will be shipped back to a central facility for refueling. Since they will never be opened on site, many of the issues associated with large plants don’t come into play.
The new agreements, set up with Hyperion Power Generation, SMR, and NuScale Power, will give the companies access to the DOE’s Savannah River National Lab, with the intention of having them develop sites there for a test installation. Ultimately, the test installations are intended to provide data that will go into the licensing of these new designs. Chu, in announcing the agreement, stated, “We are committed to restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing the next generation of these technologies.”