Archive for the ‘Small Modular Nuclear Reactors’ Category

What future for small nuclear reactors?

April 30, 2022

Small nuclear reactor? It’s a lemon!

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects

In 2022, nuclear power’s future looks grimmer than ever, Jim Green, 11 Jan 2022, RenewEconomy

”……………………………………….. Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs. Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of A$1.4 billion / GW for an integrated 300 megawatt (MW) plant, while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”. Now, the cost estimate is more than 20 times greater at A$32.6 billion / GW. A little over A$1 billion for a reactor with a capacity of just 32 MW. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s 70 MW floating nuclear power plant is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production). The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (A$688 million), equivalent to A$9.8 billion / GW. The construction project was nine years behind schedule.

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated A$279 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (A$182-284) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about A$7.0 billion / GW and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is A$8.4 billion / GW. Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the A$2.8 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China’s HTGR was partially grid-connected in late-2021 and full connection will take place in early 2022.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW (three reactor modules feeding one turbine). China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 additional HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One. Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

The World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects other than those listed above. In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia. In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was A$780 million, but the cost estimate has more than doubled and now stands at A$1.9 billion.

SMR hype

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype. For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe. In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects.

failed history of small reactor projects. A handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays. And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade. Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Everything that is promising about SMRs belongs in the never-never; everything in the real-world is expensive and over-budget, slow and behind schedule. Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

SMRs for Australia

There is ongoing promotion of SMRs in Australia but a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$225 / MWh for SMRs. The Minerals Council of Australia states that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at about one-third of that cost.

In its 2021 GenCost report, CSIRO provides these 2030 cost estimates:

* Nuclear (SMR): A$128-322 / MWh

* 90 percent wind and solar PV with integration costs (transmission, storage and synchronous condensers): A$55-80 / MWh

Enthusiasts hope that nuclear power’s cost competitiveness will improve, but in all likelihood it will continue to worsen. Alone among energy sources, nuclear power becomes more expensive over time, or in other words it has a negative learning curve.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and the author of a recent report on nuclear power’s economic crisis. https://reneweconomy.com.au/in-2022-nuclear-powers-future-is-grimmer-than-ever/

Small nuclear reactors for military use would be too dangerous – excellent targets for the enemy

December 26, 2021

In normal operation, they release potentially hazardous quantities of fission products that would be widely distributed by any penetration of the reactor vessel. More worryingly, the resiliency of tri-structural isotropic particles to kinetic impact is questionable: The silicon carbide coating around the fuel material is brittle and may fracture if impacted by munitions.

Further, graphite moderator material, which is used extensively in most mobile power plant cores, is vulnerable to oxidation when exposed to air or water at high temperatures, creating the possibility of a catastrophic graphite fire distributing radioactive ash. Even in the case of intact (non-leaking) fuel fragments being distributed by a strike, the radiological consequences for readiness and effectiveness are dire.

Given these vulnerabilities, sophisticated adversaries seeking to hinder U.S. forces are likely to realize the utility of the reactor as an area-denial target…….. , a reactor strike offers months of exclusion at the cost of only a few well-placed high-explosive warheads, a capability well within reach of even regional adversaries

Even an unsuccessful or minimally damaging attack on a reactor could offer an adversary significant benefits…………..placing these reactors in combat zones introduces nuclear reactors as valid military targets,

MOBILE NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS WON’T SOLVE THE ARMY’S ENERGY PROBLEMS, War on the Rocks, 14 Dec 21, JAKE HECLA  ”………… As China and Russia develop microreactors for propulsion, the U.S. Army is pursuing the ultimate in self-sufficient energy solutions: the capability to field mobile nuclear power plants. In this vision of a nuclearized future, the Army will replace diesel generator banks with microreactors the size of shipping containers for electricity production by the mid-2020s.

…….  the question is whether or not reactors can truly be made suitable for military use. Are they an energy panacea, or will they prove to be high-value targets capable of crippling entire bases with a single strike?

nuclear power program is confidently sprinting into uncharted territory in pursuit of a solution to its growing energy needs and has promised to put power on the grid within three years. However, the Army has not fielded a reactor since the 1960s and has made claims of safety and accident tolerance that contradict a half-century of nuclear industry experience.


The Army appears set to credulously accept industry claims of complete safety that are founded in wishful thinking and characterized by willful circumvention of basic design safety principles……….. 

(more…)

Dr Jim Green dissects the hype surrounding Small ”Modular” Nuclear Reactors.

December 25, 2021

 Nuclear power’s economic failure, Ecologist, Dr Jim Green, 13th December 2021     Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs.

Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated a cost of US$1 billion / GW for an integrated 300 MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”).

Now, the cost estimate for the CAREM reactor is a mind-boggling US$23.4 billion / GW (US$750 million / 32 MW). That’s a truckload of money for a reactor with the capacity of two large wind turbines. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s floating plant

Russia’s floating nuclear power plant (with two 35 MW reactors) is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production).

The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (US$502 million).

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated US$200 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.

The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (US$131-204) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

Climate solution?

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about US$5 billion / GW, about twice the initial cost estimates, and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays.

The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is US$6 billion / GW.

Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the US$2 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW but the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

HTGR plans dropped

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One.

Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

In addition to the CAREM reactor in Argentina and the HTGR in China, the World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects.

In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100.

According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

Fast reactor

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia.

In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was 42 billion rubles; now, the estimate is 100 billion rubles (US$1.36 billion).

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype.

For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of different ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe.

In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Subsidies

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage.

Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects:

* The French government abandoned the planned 100-200 MW ASTRID demonstration fast reactor in 2019.

* Babcock & Wilcox abandoned its Generation mPower SMR project in the US despite receiving government funding of US$111 million.

* Transatomic Power gave up on its molten salt reactor R&D in 2018.

* MidAmerican Energy gave up on its plans for SMRs in Iowa in 2013 after failing to secure legislation that would require rate-payers to partially fund construction costs.

* TerraPower abandoned its plan for a prototype fast neutron reactor in China due to restrictions placed on nuclear trade with China by the Trump administration.

* The UK government abandoned consideration of ‘integral fast reactors’ for plutonium disposition in 2019 and the US government did the same in 2015.

Hype

So we have a history of failed small reactor projects.

And a handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays.

And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade.

Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

Hype cycle

Dr Mark Cooper connects the current SMR hype to the hype surrounding the ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the late 2000s:

“The vendors and academic institutions that were among the most avid enthusiasts in propagating the early, extremely optimistic cost estimates of the “nuclear renaissance” are the same entities now producing extremely optimistic cost estimates for the next nuclear technology. We are now in the midst of the SMR hype cycle.

* Vendors produce low-cost estimates.

* Advocates offer theoretical explanations as to why the new nuclear technology will be cost competitive.

* Government authorities then bless the estimates by funding studies from friendly academics.”  ………………. https://theecologist.org/2021/dec/13/nuclear-powers-economic-failure

Terra Power’s Natrium nuclear reactor will be an economic lemon

December 25, 2021

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive.

In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.


Ramana, Makhijani: Look before you leap on nuclear   
https://trib.com/opinion/columns/ramana-makhijani-look-before-you-leap-on-nuclear/article_4508639b-d7e6-50df-b305-07c929de40ed.html, Oct 16, 2021  

The Cowboy State is weighing plans to host a multi-billion dollar “demonstration” nuclear power plant — TerraPower’s Natrium reactor. The long history of similar nuclear reactors, dating back to 1951, indicates that Wyoming is likely to be left with a nuclear lemon on its hands.

The Natrium reactor design, which uses molten sodium as a coolant (water is used in most existing commercial nuclear reactors), is likely to be problematic. Sodium reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air, a serious vulnerability. A sodium fire, within a few months of the reactor starting to generate power, led to Japan’s Monju [at left] demonstration reactor being shut down.

At 1,200 megawatts, the French Superphénix was the largest sodium-cooled reactor, designed to demonstrate commercial feasibility. Plagued by operational problems, including a major sodium leak, it was shut down in 1998 after 14 years, having operated at an average capacity of under 7 percent compared to the 80 to 90 percent required for commercial operation. Other sodium-cooled reactors have also experienced leaks, which are very difficult to prevent because of chemical interactions between sodium and the stainless steel used in various reactor components. Finally, sodium, being opaque, makes reactor maintenance and repairs notoriously difficult.

Sodium-cooled reactors can experience rapid and hard-to-control power surges. Under severe conditions, a runaway chain reaction can even result in an explosion. Such a runaway reaction was the central cause of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion, though that was a reactor of a different design. Following Chernobyl, Germany’s Kalkar sodium-cooled reactor, about the same size as the proposed Natrium, was abandoned without ever being commissioned, though it was complete.

All these technical and safety challenges naturally drive up the costs of sodium-cooled reactors, making them significantly more expensive than conventional nuclear reactors. More than $100 billion, in today’s dollars, has been spent worldwide in the attempt to commercialize essentially this design and associated technologies, to no avail.

The Natrium design, being even more expensive than present-day reactors, will therefore be more expensive than practically every other form of electricity generation. The Wall Street firm, Lazard, estimates that electricity from new nuclear plants is several times more than the costs at utility-scale solar and wind power plants. Further, the difference has been increasing.

To this bleak picture, Terrapower has added another economically problematic feature: molten salt storage to allow its electric output to vary. Terrapower hopes this feature will help it integrate better into an electricity grid that has more variable electricity sources, notably wind and solar.

Molten salt storage would be novel in a nuclear reactor, but it is used in concentrating solar power projects, where it can cost an additional $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. At that rate, it could add a billion dollars to the Natrium project.

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive. In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.

To top it all off, the proposed Wyoming TerraPower demonstration project depends on government funds. Last year, the Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial taxpayer funding; this may increase $1.6 billion over seven years, “subject to the availability of future appropriations” and Terrapower coming up with matching funds.

Despite government support, private capital has recently abandoned a more traditional project, the mPower small modular reactor, resulting in its termination in 2017. And it was Congress that refused to appropriate more money for the sodium-cooled reactor proposed for Clinch River, Tennessee when its costs skyrocketed, thereby ending the project in 1983.

A much harder look at the facts is in order, lest Wyoming add to the total of many cancelled nuclear projects and abandoned construction sites. Of course, the Natrium lemon might be made into lemonade by converting it to an amusement park if it is never switched on, like the Kalkar reactor, now refashioned into Wunderland Kalkar, an amusement park in Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. For energy, the state might look to its natural heritage – its wind power potential is greater than the combined generation of all 94 operating U.S. nuclear reactors put together, which are on average, about three times the size of Natrium.

M. V. Ramana is Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and the Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. Dr. Ramana holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Boston University.

Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, holds a Ph.D. in engineering (nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley.

Small nuclear reactors, uranium mining, nuclear fuel chain, reprocessing, dismantling reactors – extract from Expert Response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021


.

………… If SMRs are used, this not least raises questions about proliferation, i.e. the possible spread of nuclear weapons as well as the necessary nuclear technologies or fissionable materials for their production.    ………..

By way of summary, it is important to state that many questions are still unresolved with regard to any widespread use of SMRs – and this would be necessary to make a significant contribution to climate protection – and they are not addressed in the JRC Report. These issues are not just technical matters that have not yet been clarified, but primarily questions of safety, proliferation and liability, which require international coordination and regulations. 

  • neither coal mining nor uranium mining can be viewed as sustainable …….. Uranium mining principally creates radioactive waste and requires significantly more expensive waste management than coal mining.
  • The volume of waste arising from decommissioning a power plant would therefore be significantly higher than specified in the JRC Report in Part B 2.1, depending on the time required to dismantle it

    Measures to reduce the environmental impact The JRC Report is contradictory when it comes to the environmental impact of uranium mining: it certainly mentions the environmental risks of uranium mining (particularly in JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.2, p. 67ff), but finally states that they can be contained by suitable measures (particularly JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.5, p. 77ff). However, suitable measures are not discussed in the depth required ……..

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ”…………………3.2 Analysing the contribution made by small modular reactors (SMRs) to climate change mitigation in the JRC Report   
      The statement about many countries’ growing interest in SMRs is mentioned in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) without any further classification. In particular, there is no information about the current state of development and the lack of marketability of SMRs.

    Reactors with an electric power output of up to 300 MWe are normally classified as SMRs. Most of the extremely varied SMR concepts found around the world have not yet got past the conceptual level. Many unresolved questions still need to be clarified before SMRs can be technically constructed in a country within the EU and put into operation. They range from issues about safety, transportation and dismantling to matters related to interim storage and final disposal and even new problems for the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities 


    The many theories frequently postulated for SMRs – their contribution to combating the risks of climate change and their lower costs and shorter construction periods must be attributed to particular economic interests, especially those of manufacturers, and therefore viewed in a very critical light

    Today`s new new nuclear power plants have electrical output in the range of 1000-1600 MWe. SMR concepts, in contrast, envisage planned electrical outputs of 1.5 – 300 MWe. In order to provide the same electrical power capacity, the number of units would need to be increased by a factor of 3-1000. Instead of having about 400 reactors with large capacity today, it would be necessary to construct many thousands or even tens of thousands of SMRs (BASE, 2021; BMK, 2020). A current production cost calculation, which consider scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, concludes that more than 1,000 SMRs would need to be produced before SMR production was cost-effective. It cannot therefore be expected that the structural cost disadvantages of reactors with low capacity can be compensated for by learning or mass effects in the foreseeable future (BASE, 2021). 


    There is no classification in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) regarding the frequently asserted statement that SMRs are safer than traditional nuclear power plants with a large capacity, as they have a lower radioactive inventory and make greater use of passive safety systems. In the light of this, various SMR concepts suggest the need for reduced safety requirements, e.g. regarding the degree of redundancy or diversity. Some SMR concepts even consider refraining from normal provisions for accident management both internal and external – for example, smaller planning zones for emergency protection and even the complete disappearance of any off-site emergency zones. 

     The theory that an SMR automatically has an increased safety level is not proven. The safety of a specific reactor unit depends on the safety related properties of the individual reactor and its functional effectiveness and must be carefully analysed – taking into account the possible range of events or incidents. This kind of analysis will raise additional questions, particularly about the external events if SMRs are located in remote regions if SMRs are used to supply industrial plants or if they are sea-based SMRs (BASE, 2021). 

    (more…)

    Environmental degradation, illness, international tensions – small nuclear reactors had bad results in the Arctic

    September 14, 2021

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors

    the U.S. still has no coherent national strategy for nuclear waste disposal, and critics are asking what happens if Pele falls into enemy hands.

    The US Army tried portable nuclear power at remote bases 60 years ago – it didn’t go well   https://theconversation.com/the-us-army-tried-portable-nuclear-power-at-remote-bases-60-years-ago-it-didnt-go-well-164138
    Paul Bierman
    Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment, Professor of Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 21 July 21

    In a tunnel 40 feet beneath the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, a Geiger counter screamed. It was 1964, the height of the Cold War. U.S. soldiers in the tunnel, 800 miles from the North Pole, were dismantling the Army’s first portable nuclear reactor.

    Commanding Officer Joseph Franklin grabbed the radiation detector, ordered his men out and did a quick survey before retreating from the reactor.

    He had spent about two minutes exposed to a radiation field he estimated at 2,000 rads per hour, enough to make a person ill. When he came home from Greenland, the Army sent Franklin to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. There, he set off a whole body radiation counter designed to assess victims of nuclear accidents. Franklin was radioactive.

    The Army called the reactor portable, even at 330 tons, because it was built from pieces that each fit in a C-130 cargo plane. It was powering Camp Century, one of the military’s most unusual bases.


    Camp Century was a series of tunnels built into the Greenland ice sheet and used for both military research and scientific projects. The military boasted that the nuclear reactor there, known as the PM-2A, needed just 44 pounds of uranium to replace a million or more gallons of diesel fuel. Heat from the reactor ran lights and equipment and allowed the 200 or so men at the camp as many hot showers as they wanted in that brutally cold environment.

    The PM-2A was the third child in a family of eight Army reactors, several of them experiments in portable nuclear power.

    A few were misfits. PM-3A, nicknamed Nukey Poo, was installed at the Navy base at Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. It made a nuclear mess in the Antarctic, with 438 malfunctions in 10 years including a cracked and leaking containment vessel. SL-1, a stationary low-power nuclear reactor in Idaho, blew up during refueling, killing three men. SM-1 still sits 12 miles from the White House at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It cost US$2 million to build and is expected to cost $68 million to clean up. The only truly mobile reactor, the ML-1never really worked.

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors.

    Nearly 60 years after the PM-2A was installed and the ML-1 project abandoned, the U.S. military is exploring portable land-based nuclear reactors again.

    In May 2021, the Pentagon requested $60 million for Project Pele. Its goal: Design and build, within five years, a small, truck-mounted portable nuclear reactor that could be flown to remote locations and war zones. It would be able to be powered up and down for transport within a few days.

    The Navy has a long and mostly successful history of mobile nuclear power. The first two nuclear submarines, the Nautilus and the Skate, visited the North Pole in 1958, just before Camp Century was built. Two other nuclear submarines sank in the 1960s – their reactors sit quietly on the Atlantic Ocean floor along with two plutonium-containing nuclear torpedos. Portable reactors on land pose different challenges – any problems are not under thousands of feet of ocean water.

    Those in favor of mobile nuclear power for the battlefield claim it will provide nearly unlimited, low-carbon energy without the need for vulnerable supply convoys. Others argue that the costs and risks outweigh the benefits. There are also concerns about nuclear proliferation if mobile reactors are able to avoid international inspection.

    A leaking reactor on the Greenland ice sheet

    The PM-2A was built in 18 months. It arrived at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland in July 1960 and was dragged 138 miles across the ice sheet in pieces and then assembled at Camp Century.

    When the reactor went critical for the first time in October, the engineers turned it off immediately because the PM-2A leaked neutrons, which can harm people. The Army fashioned lead shields and built walls of 55-gallon drums filled with ice and sawdust trying to protect the operators from radiation.

    The PM-2A ran for two years, making fossil fuel-free power and heat and far more neutrons than was safe.

    Those stray neutrons caused trouble. Steel pipes and the reactor vessel grew increasingly radioactive over time, as did traces of sodium in the snow. Cooling water leaking from the reactor contained dozens of radioactive isotopes potentially exposing personnel to radiation and leaving a legacy in the ice.

    When the reactor was dismantled for shipping, its metal pipes shed radioactive dust. Bulldozed snow that was once bathed in neutrons from the reactor released radioactive flakes of ice.

    Franklin must have ingested some of the radioactive isotopes that the leaking neutrons made. In 2002, he had a cancerous prostate and kidney removed. By 2015, the cancer spread to his lungs and bones. He died of kidney cancer on March 8, 2017, as a retired, revered and decorated major general.

    Camp Century’s radioactive legacy

    Camp Century was shut down in 1967. During its eight-year life, scientists had used the base to drill down through the ice sheet and extract an ice core that my colleagues and I are still using today to reveal secrets of the ice sheet’s ancient past. Camp Century, its ice core and climate change are the focus of a book I am now writing.

    The PM-2A was found to be highly radioactive and was buried in an Idaho nuclear waste dump. Army “hot waste” dumping records indicate it left radioactive cooling water buried in a sump in the Greenland ice sheet.

    When scientists studying Camp Century in 2016 suggested that the warming climate now melting Greenland’s ice could expose the camp and its waste, including lead, fuel oil, PCBs and possibly radiation, by 2100, relations between the U.S, Denmark and Greenland grew tense. Who would be responsible for the cleanup and any environmental damage?

    Portable nuclear reactors today

    There are major differences between nuclear power production in the 1960s and today.

    The Pele reactor’s fuel will be sealed in pellets the size of poppy seeds, and it will be air-cooled so there’s no radioactive coolant to dispose of.

    Being able to produce energy with fewer greenhouse emissions is a positive in a warming world. The U.S. military’s liquid fuel use is close to all of Portugal’s or Peru’s. Not having to supply remote bases with as much fuel can also help protect lives in dangerous locations.

    But, the U.S. still has no coherent national strategy for nuclear waste disposal, and critics are asking what happens if Pele falls into enemy hands. Researchers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Academy of Sciences have previously questioned the risks of nuclear reactors being attacked by terrorists. As proposals for portable reactors undergo review over the coming months, these and other concerns will be drawing attention.

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors.

    Despite the problems, small nuclear reactor salesmen aggressively marketing: it’s make or break time for the nuclear industry

    April 5, 2021

    Entrepreneurs Look to Small-Scale Nuclear Reactors,   The American Society of Mechanical Engineers,  Mar 2, 2021, by Michael Abrams  ‘‘……… even concepts that are predicated on being small, modular, and fast to build seem locked into decades-long development cycles.

    The key to reviving the nuclear power industry  is building these small reactors not as projects, but as factory-made products. That’s easier said than done. “Usually, a bunch of nuclear engineers go in a room and then they come out after a year or two, and they have a design that doesn’t have a lot of foundation in realty, and nobody can make it, and the projects dies,” said Kurt Terrani, a senior staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory………..

    In terms of reactor physics, the NuScale concept is fairly bog standard: low-enriched uranium, light-water cooling. In essence, their reactor is just a smaller version of the nuclear plants already in operation. That NuScale didn’t go with a more revolutionary design to mitigate waste or utilize an alternative fuel cycle is no accident. To do so would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to come up with an entirely new licensing framework, said José Reyes, cofounder and chief technology officer at NuScale.

    “Pressurized water-cooled reactors have benefited from billions of dollars of research and development and millions of hours of operating experience over the past 50 year,” Reyes said. “NuScale went with a more traditional approach to assure a design that is cost-competitive and capable of near-term deployment.” …………. The containment vessel will also sit underground in a giant pool capable of absorbing radiation from a leak. Multiple reactors would share the same pool. Being underground, they are also earthquake- and airplane-resistant. [ Ed. no mention of what would happen in the case of flooding, or of an emergency requirinfpeople to quickly respond underground] The company believes that its design is robust enough that utilities could site the reactors much closer to population centers, rather than in remote locations surrounded by an emergency planning zone.

    So far, the concept and design have been convincing enough to win funding from the DoE and to move NuScale farther along in the regulatory process than any of its would-be competitors. “NuScale’s small modular reactor technology is the world’s first and only to undergo design certification review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,”   NuScale set out to design a reactor that was small enough to transport to site, essentially complete. Not everyone agrees, however, that building out a power plant in 60-MW modules is optimal. “The whole idea of SMRs is that smaller is better,” said Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and the director of the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems. “But within the class of small reactors, larger is still better.  If you can design a reactor that is still simple, that  is still passively safe, that can still be built in a factory, but that generates 300 megawatts, that for sure is going to be more economically attractive than the same thing that generates 60 megawatts.” Buongiorno points to GE’s BWRX-300 concept as a potentially better option. It, too, is a light-water reactor with fuel rods and passive cooling. But its larger size makes it a more of a plug-and-play replacement for coal plants…… Holtec’s SMR-160 is intended to be installed deep underground; the steel containment vessel is strong enough to keep the core covered during any conceivable disaster. “ …… Other SMR designs are dispensing with solid fuel altogether. These reactors would instead dissolve uranium in a molten salt. Some of these designs are miniaturized versions of the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment built by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the late 1960s………   The one downside to molten salt reactors is that the salts usually contain fluoride, which is extremely corrosive. Simplifying the mechanical design of the cooling system cuts down on the parts in danger of corroding, but the pins that will contain the fuel are still at risk…..

    Make or Break for Nuclear

    Moltex is aiming for build costs at around $2,000 per kW—more than wind or solar, but less than newly built coal or gas plants, let alone competing nuclear concepts. “We’ve believe we’ve come up with a concept that can radically reduce the cost of nuclear power,” ……   Other SMR companies are less aggressive with their cost estimates—NuScale has its scopes on a cost of around $3,600 per kW, while GE is aiming for less than $2,500—but still come in under conventional nuclear power. ……. Proof of whether those costs can be achieved will be actual construction and commissioning. “This decade will be very telling,” said Chicago’s Rosner. “It’s the make or break decade for nuclear.” Furthest along is NuScale, which in September 2020 announced its SMR design had been issued a standard design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That means the design can be referenced in an application for a construction permit—a big step, and one that had not been before achieved by a small modular reactor design. In August 2020, the NRC had completed its Phase 6 review and issued a Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER). The company also announced in November that it had uprated its Power Module to 77 MW, which should improve its economics by around 25 percent…. The key is getting the cost and scale right.  https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/content/entrepreneurs-look-to-small-scale-nuclear-reactors

    Reality bats last-Small Nuclear Reactors just not economic for Australia (or anywhere else)

    February 18, 2021
    Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle  https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-modular-reactor-rhetoric-hits-a-hurdle-62196/    Jim Green, 23 June 2020, The promotion of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) in Australia has been disrupted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). The latest GenCost report produced by the two agencies estimates a hopelessly uneconomic construction cost of A$16,304 per kilowatt (kW) for SMRs.But it throws the nuclear lobby a bone by hypothesising a drastic reduction in costs over the next decade. The A$16,304 estimate has been furiously attacked by, amongst others, conservative politicians involved in a federal nuclear inquiry last year, and the Bright New World (BNW) nuclear lobby group. The estimate has its origins in a commissioned report written by engineering company GHD. GHD provides the estimate without clearly explaining its origins or basis. And the latest CSIRO/AEMO report does no better than to state that the origins of the estimate are “unclear”. Thus nuclear lobbyists have leapt on that muddle-headedness and filled the void with their own lowball estimates of SMR costs.
    Real-world data
    Obviously, the starting point for any serious discussion about SMR costs would be the cost of operational SMRs – ignored by CSIRO/AEMO and by lobbyists such as BNW. There is just one operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant. Its estimated cost is US$740 million for a 70 MW plant. That equates to A$15,200 per kW – similar to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate of A$16,304 per kW. Over the course of construction, the cost quadrupled and a 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$288) per megawatt-hour (MWh) with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. Figures on costs of SMRs under construction should also be considered – they are far more useful than the estimates of vendors and lobbyists, which invariably prove to be highly optimistic. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of China’s high-temperature gas-cooled SMR (HTGR) is US$6,000 (A$8,600) per kW. Costs are reported to have nearly doubled, with increases arising from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays. The CAREM SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. In 2004, when the reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of USS$1,000 per kW for an integrated 300-MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”). When construction began in 2014, the cost estimate was US$15,400 per kW (US$446 million / 29 MW). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased US$21,900 (A$31,500) per kW (US$700 million / 32 MW). To the best of my knowledge, no other figures on SMR construction costs are publicly available. So the figures are: A$15,200 per kW for Russia’s light-water floating SMR A$8,600 per kW for China’s HTGR A$31,500 per kW for Argentina’s light-water SMR The average of those figures is A$18,400 per kW, which is higher than the CSIRO/AEMO figure of A$16,304 per kW and double BNW’s estimate of A$9,132 per kW. The CSIRO/AEMO report says that while there are SMRs under construction or nearing completion, “public cost data has not emerged from these early stage developments.” That simply isn’t true.
    BNW’s imaginary reactor
    BNW objects to CSIRO/AEMO basing their SMR cost estimate on a “hypothetical reactor”. But BNW does exactly the same, ignoring real-world cost estimates for SMRs under construction or in operation. BNW starts with the estimate of US company NuScale Power, which hopes to build SMRs but hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype. BNW adds a 50% ‘loading’ in recognition of past examples of nuclear reactor cost overruns. Thus BNW’s estimate for SMR construction costs is A$9,132 per kW. Two big problems: NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks, and BNW’s proposed 50% loading doesn’t fit the recent pattern of nuclear costs increasing by far greater amounts. NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4,200 per kW is implausible. It is far lower than Lazard’s latest estimate of US$6,900-12,200 per kW for large reactors and far lower than the lowest estimate (US$12,300 per kW) of the cost of the two Vogtle AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia (the only reactors under construction in the US). NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant – despite the unavoidable diseconomies of scale with SMRs and despite the fact that independent assessmentsconclude that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per kW) than large reactors. Further, modular factory-line production techniques were trialled with the twin AP1000 Westinghouse reactor project in South Carolina – a project that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse. Lazard estimates a levelised cost of US$118-192 per MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale estimates a cost of US$65 per MWh for power from its first plant. Thus NuScale claims that its electricity will be 2-3 times cheaper than that from large nuclear plants, which is implausible. And even if NuScale achieved its cost estimate, it would still be higher than Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$28-54) and utility-scale solar (US$32-44). BNW claims that the CSIRO/AEMO levelised cost estimate of A$258-338 per MWh for SMRs is an “extreme overestimate”. But an analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 per MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, which is far closer to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate than it is to BNW’s estimate of A$123-128 per MWh with the potential to fall as low as A$60.
    Cost overruns
    BNW proposes adding a 50% ‘loading’ to NuScale’s cost estimate in recognition of past examples of reactor cost overruns, and claims that it is basing its calculations on “a first-of-a-kind vendor estimate [NuScale’s] with the maximum uncertainly associated with the Class of the estimate.” Huh? The general pattern is that early vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude, while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4. Here are some recent examples of vastly greater cost increases than BNW allows for: * The estimated cost of the HTGR under construction in China has nearly doubled. The cost of Russia’s floating SMR quadrupled. * The estimated cost of Argentina’s SMR has increased 22-fold above early, speculative estimates and the cost increased by 66% from 2014, when construction began, to 2017. * The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in US state of Georgia (two AP1000 reactors) has doubled to more than US$13.5 billion per reactor and will increase further. In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US1.4 billion – 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle. * The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors under construction in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (the EU’s 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 2017). In the mid-2000s, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was £2 billion, almost seven times lower than the current estimate. * The estimated cost of about €12.4 billion for the only reactor under construction in France is 3.8 times greater than the original €3.3 billion estimate. * The estimated cost of about €11 billion for the only reactor under construction in Finland is 3.7 times greater than the original €3 billion estimate.
    Timelines
    BNW notes that timelines for deployment and construction are “extremely material” in terms of the application of learning rates to capital expenditure. BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate as well as an assumption that NuScale’s first reactor will begin generating power in 2026 even though construction has not yet begun. For reasons unexplained, CSIRO/AEMO also assume a three-year construction period in their latest report, and for reasons unexplained the operating life of an SMR is halved from 60 years to 30 years. None of the real-world evidence supports the arguments about construction timelines: * The construction period for the only operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant, was 12.5 years. * Argentina’s CAREM SMR was conceived in the 1980s, construction began in 2014, the 2017 start-up date was missed and subsequent start-up dates were missed. If the current schedule for a 2023 start-up is met it will be a nine-year construction project rather than the three years proposed by CSIRO/AEMO and BNW for construction of an SMR. Last year, work on the CAREM SMR was suspended, with Techint Engineering & Construction asking Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission to take urgent measures to mitigate the project’s serious financial breakdown. In April 2020, Argentina’s energy minister announced that work on CAREM would resume. * Construction of China’s HTGR SMR began in 2012, the 2017 start-up date was missed, and if the targeted late-2020 start-up is met it will be an eight-year construction project. * NuScale Power has been trying to progress its SMR ambitions for over a decade and hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype reactor. * The two large reactors under construction in the US are 5.5 years behind schedule and those under construction in France and Finland are 10 years behind schedule. * In 2007, EDF boasted that Britons would be using electricity from an EPR reactor at Hinkley Point to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017 – but construction didn’t even begin until December 2018.
    Learning rates
    In response to relentless attacks from far-right politicians and lobby groups such as BNW, the latest CSIRO/AEMO GenCost report makes the heroic assumption that SMR costs will fall from A$16,304 per kW to as little as A$7,140 per kW in 2030, with the levelised cost anywhere between A$129 and A$336 per MWh. The report states that SMRs were assigned a “higher learning rate (more consistent with an emerging technology) rather than being included in a broad nuclear category, with a low learning rate consistent with more mature large scale nuclear.” But there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the report. The cost reduction assumes that large numbers of SMRs will be built, and that costs will come down as efficiencies are found, production capacity is scaled up, etc. Large numbers of SMRs being built? Not according to expert opinion. A 2017 Lloyd’s Register report was based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers, who predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”. A 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” about the future of SMRs. Last year, the North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.” Will costs come down in the unlikely event that SMRs are built in significant numbers? For large nuclear reactors, the experience has been either a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate. If everything went astonishingly well for SMRs, it would take several rounds of learning to drastically cut costs to A$7,140 per kW. Several rounds of SMR construction by 2030, as assumed in the most optimistic scenario in the CSIRO/AEMO report? Obviously not. The report notes that it would take many years to achieve economies, but then ignores its own advice: “Constructing first-of-a-kind plant includes additional unforeseen costs associated with lack of experience in completing such projects on budget. SMR will not only be subject to first-of-a-kind costs in Australia but also the general engineering principle that building plant smaller leads to higher costs. SMRs may be able to overcome the scale problem by keeping the design of reactors constant and producing them in a series. This potential to modularise the technology is likely another source of lower cost estimates. However, even in the scenario where the industry reaches a scale where small modular reactors can be produced in series, this will take many years to achieve and therefore is not relevant to estimates of current costs (using our definition).” Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh for SMRs in 2030, the cost is still far higher than the low-cost estimates for wind with two hours of battery storage (A$64), wind with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$86), solar PV with two hours of battery storage (A$52) or solar PV with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$84). And the CSIRO/AEMO high-cost estimate for SMRs in 2030 ($336 per MWh) is more than double the high estimates for solar PV or wind with 2-6 hours of storage (A$90-151).
    Reality bats last
    The economic claims of SMR enthusiasts are sharply contradicted by real-world data. And their propaganda campaign simply isn’t working – government funding and private-sector funding is pitiful when measured against the investments required to build SMR prototypes let alone fleets of SMRs and the infrastructure that would allow for mass production of SMR components. Wherever you look, there’s nothing to justify the hype of SMR enthusiasts. Argentina’s stalled SMR program is a joke. Plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant in China have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association. Russia planned to have seven floating nuclear power plants by 2015, but only recently began operation of its first plant. South Korea won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea – “this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association – and plans to establish an export market for SMART SMRs depend on a wing and a prayer … and on Saudi oil money which is currently in short supply. ‘Reality bats last’, nuclear advocate Barry Brook used to say a decade ago when a nuclear ‘renaissance’ was in full-swing. The reality is that the renaissance was short-lived, and global nuclear capacity fell by 0.6 gigawatts last year while renewable capacity increased by a record 201 gigawatts. Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

    Even a pro nuclear enthusiast admits that Small Nuclear Reactors cause toxic radioactive wastes

    February 18, 2021

    13 Feb 21 I was quite fascinated to note a paragraph in a long nuclear  propaganda article, (by Stikeman Elliott, in Mondaq) yesterday, in which this, hitherto rather hidden problem, gets a mention.

    Of course, this pro nuclear writer is not really worried all that much about the actual problem.

    Oh no –  his concern is about the public’s perception of it –  that public perception might hamper the develoment of the nuclear lobby’s newest gimmick. Can’t have that!

    ”…….efforts need to be made to address the perceived risks so as to establish confidence in the ability of SMRs to operate safely while proving to be a viable source of low-carbon energy. 

    While SMRs produce less nuclear waste than traditional reactors, the issue of radioactive waste still exists. Nuclear waste needs to be safely stored and transported to secure facilities. SMRs have often been proposed as a solution for electricity generation in remote areas, but this proves problematic from a waste perspective as any nuclear waste would need to be transported over long distances. There is currently no permanent nuclear waste storage site in Canada……”

    ”Small Modular Reactors”’- governments are being sucked in by the ”billionaires’ nuclear club” 

    February 18, 2021

    SNC-Lavalin   Scandal-ridden SNC-Lavalin is playing a major role in the push for SMRs.

    Terrestrial Energy…..  Terrestrial Energy’s advisory board includes Dr. Ernest Moniz, the former US Secretary of the Dept. of Energy (2013-2017) who provided more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear industry. Moniz has been a key advisor to the Biden-Harris transition team, which has come out in favour of SMRs.

    The “billionaires’ nuclear club”  …“As long as Bill Gates is wasting his own money or that of other billionaires, it is not so much of an issue. The problem is that he is lobbying hard for government investment.”

    Going after the public purse

    Bill Gates was apparently very busy during the 2015 Paris climate talks. He also went on stage during the talks to announce a collaboration among 24 countries and the EU on something called Mission Innovation – an attempt to “accelerate global clean energy innovation” and “increase government support” for the technologies.

    Gates’ PR tactic is effective: provide a bit of capital to create an SMR “bandwagon,” with governments fearing their economies would be left behind unless they massively fund such innovations.

    governments “are being suckers. Because if Wall Street and the banks will not finance this, why should it be the role of the government to engage in venture capitalism of this kind?”

    It will take a Herculean effort from the public to defeat this NICE Future, but along with the Assembly of First Nations, three political parties – the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Green Party – have now come out against SMRs.