U.S. regulators for the first time have approved a design for a ‘small modular reactor,’ but it remains to be seen whether going small can save nuclear power. Earlier this month, NuScale Power, based in Oregon, passed a significant milestone, earning Phase 1 approval from U.S. regulators for the design of its nearly $3 billion small modular reactor – an early but crucial step in the development of small nuclear technology. Meanwhile two other firms, BWXT mPower and Holtec International, are making their way through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s application process, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking site approval for at least two small modular reactors. An operational small modular reactor, however, remains a decade or longer away from becoming concrete-and-steel reality. And in that time, the question remains whether the market for costly new nuclear plants – already a challenge, and all but dead in the U.S. – will become even more challenging in the intervening years as renewable and battery prices continue to fall and U.S. gas production booms. One major consulting firm, which declined to comment on the record, stated bluntly, “There are doubts in terms of the economic viability of these projects.” Some environmental groups have also shared that assessment: “Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realized, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power,” the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is generally skeptical of nuclear power, wrote in 2013.
US News 22nd May 2018 read more »