An arguably definitive study of new advanced non-water cooled nuclear options, including molten salt reactors and liquid sodium cooled fast reactors, from the US Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that none can be ready for at least a decade, more like two, and there are none that meet safety, security, sustainability criteria, apart possibly from once-through breed and burn reactors. If we want nuclear it says it would more sensible just to upgrade the standard, more familiar, water cooled reactors. The UCS report notes that, ‘in the 2000s, amid industry hopes of a nuclear renaissance, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) received applications to build more than two dozen new reactors. All were evolutionary versions of the light-water reactor (LWR)…. Companies such as Westinghouse, which developed the AP1000, promised these LWR variants could be built more quickly and cheaply while enhancing safety.’ However, ‘prospective purchasers cancelled nearly all of those proposals even before ground was broken, and the utilities that started building two AP1000 reactors at the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina abandoned the project after it experienced significant cost overruns and delays. Only one project remains- two AP1000 units at the Alvin W. Vogtle plant in Georgia – but its cost has doubled, and construction is taking more than twice as long as originally estimated’. The UCS review does not look specifically at the comparative economics of the various NLWR systems. That would be very hard at this stage, when we are mostly talking about unbuilt concepts, some of which would involve the establishment of major new expensive fuel reprocessing facilities. It also doesn’t look at fusion, which some see as a longer-term option. But it does cover most of the other issues and options – and quite comprehensively, at least in terms of US NLWR developments. And it seems that there, apart from a few exceptions, all we are left with, by way of near-future nuclear options, are revamped LWRs. That classification does of course include mini-PWR designs, like NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor. But the UCS is none too keen on SMRs, as witness its earlier report on them –it says ‘small isn’t always beautiful’. A more recent review of SMRs by Prof. M.V. Ravana, from the University of British Columbia, looking more at the economics, came to similar conclusions: ‘Pursuing SMRs will only worsen the problem of poor economics that has plagued nuclear power and make it harder for nuclear power to compete with renewable sources of electricity.’ For example, he says ‘operating nuclear reactors in a load-following mode would reduce the capacity factor, which would increase the cost of electricity generated’ and he claims that ‘nuclear advocates seem to be clutching at straws by emphasizing these options’.
Renew Extra 24th April 2021 read more »