Nuclear power generation harnesses thermal energy produced through fission to heat water and propel steam turbines. The reactors neither burn fossil fuels nor produce carbon emissions. However, they have been controversial because of the potential dangers caused by overheating and radiation exposure.
Today, NPR reports that there are 98 nuclear power plants operating in the US. And according to US News and World Report, nuclear power plants generated about 20% of the nation’s electricity last year, producing the largest share of zero-carbon electricity in the country. However, more than a third of these large-scale plants are currently either unprofitable or slated for retirement.
Several startups have begun to scale down nuclear technology to develop small, modular nuclear reactors that can be deployed in parallel with other generation assets like solar, wind turbines, and hydropower plants.
One company, NuScale Power, has developed mini reactors that can be deployed independently onsite or with additional reactors to achieve the ideal power output. The company explains that its design capitalizes on passive cooling and doesn’t depend on pumps or generators that could fail in an emergency, which makes it safer than past technologies. The reactors are placed in an underground containment vessel and surrounded by cooling water.
The company plans to construct its initial installation at the Idaho National Lab. The energy it generates will power the lab and be distributed to participating Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems utilities. The organization explains that it selected the modular reactors for their ability to integrate with other distributed energy resources as well as their ability to be ramped up and down relatively quickly.
What are your thoughts regarding the use of small, modular nuclear reactors for power generation?