As energy prices rise and the environmental effects of major power sources like coal become more apparent, the reliability and relative safety of mini nuclear energy systems is beginning to look more and more attractive. Hyperion Power Generation has thus far hogged the mini nuclear reactor spotlight, but NuScale Power claims that it can cut nuclear plant construction costs and increase safety with its Lego-like 45 megawatt modular reactors.
Unlike with Hyperion’s hot tub-sized backyard reactors, NuScale expects its systems to be used in large nuclear plants. But while traditional plants use centralized reactors, each mini NuScale reactor operates independently. There are a number of advantages to NuScale’s method. Besides making the job easier for construction workers, NuScale’s passive cooling systems are supposedly safer than traditional cooling systems, and if one module fails, it doesn’t mean the whole plant is down and out. And NuScale estimates that a 540-megawatt plant made from 12 modular reactors could generate power for 6 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour– a price that is competitive with fossil fuels and cheaper than solar power.
NuScale has a ways to go before its reactor hits the market. The company doesn’t plan on submitting its design to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency until 2011, at which point the agency will spend three years reviewing it. After that, NuScale has to actually start manufacturing its product, so its first nuclear plant may not be ready until 2018. Hyperion’s model will be on the market by 2013. Both companies will likely face questions next week, when Energy Northwest, a group of utilities in the Pacific Northwest, releases a feasability report for modular reactors.