So why hasn't somebody thought of this before? Well, the concept of smaller nuclear power plants isn't new. The core technology that underlies all nuclear reactors is essentially scaleable. They can be built big or small. But conventional reactors have typically been, to use technical industry jargon, frickin' ginormous. Big reactors depend on economy of scale principles to put out more energy per facility.
NuScale's approach takes advantage of new material science technologies and construction processes that even out the playing field, according to the company. Multiple mini-reactors also allow for better on-the-fly calibration of energy output. The NuScale system is designed to work with other nearby zero-carbon energy facilities, too, managing output on a minute-to-minute basis, depending on what's being produced by local solar or wind energy utilities.
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Interest in nuclear power is spiking now, thanks to statements from President Trump about federal investment in the technology. Optimism about the future of the industry has even boosted uranium stocks, which are up nearly 40 percent since Election Day.
The surge is also benefiting other energy companies looking to find a new twist on traditional nuclear power plants. For instance, the Massachusetts-based Transatomic Power Corporation is reviving an updated version of the molten salt reactor, first developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. This reactor actually runs on spent fuel and could go a long way toward dealing with the radioactive waste that has piled up at facilities including the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production plant.
So what comes next for the mini reactor initiative? The NRC certification process is likely to take three years or so. If all goes according to plan, NuScale will start building the first commercial 12-module power plant on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory - a nuclear power research and development hub - with a target operation date of 2026.
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