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Promoting Small Modular Reactors

Issue 2 and Volume 3.

By Thomas L. Sanders, President, American Nuclear Society

Click to EnlargeOn behalf of the American Nuclear Society, I have recently been very active in promoting the future of small modular reactors. Through this process, I have been able to engage segments of the U.S. government, the ANS membership and the international community.

The highlight of these exciting opportunities was testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at its hearing on small nuclear reactors. The hearing was called to gather information regarding two Senate bills under consideration as amendments to the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The first proposed amendment, the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009 (S 2052), would require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct research to lower the cost of nuclear reactor systems. This research would cover modular and small-scale reactor development, balance-of-plant issues, cost-efficient manufacturing and construction methods, plant licensing issues and enhanced proliferation controls.

The second proposed amendment, the Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S 2812), would require the DOE to develop two standard designs for small modular reactors, including at least one rated at a capacity of 50 MWe or less. The DOE would then need to obtain design certifications from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by 2018, develop combined license applications and obtain the combined licenses from the NRC by 2021.

While addressing these bills during my testimony, I noted that nuclear energy will have an increasingly critical role to play in ensuring a robust U.S. energy supply and that both small and large nuclear reactors will play a part. I also said that because nuclear technology is a critical component of the nation’s infrastructure, decisions about nuclear power should not be made based solely on cost as they have been in the past. I further stated that nuclear policy decisions must include an integrated focus on both international and domestic markets so that the U.S. can help facilitate the global nuclear renaissance while maximizing safety, minimizing proliferation risks, reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and creating hundreds of thousands of high-paying U.S. jobs. My complete statements, along with the entire hearing, are available at energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Home.

In addition to this testimony, my efforts to promote small modular reactors have also included interactions with various ANS constituencies. I have traveled across the U.S. to speak to ANS local and student sections and I have begun addressing specific issues related to small modular reactors by establishing three special ANS committees.

The first, the ANS President’s Committee on American Nuclear Engagement, was commissioned to prepare a report recommending legislative, regulatory and other policy changes needed for the U.S. to support a policy of global nuclear engagement.

The second committee, the ANS President’s Special Committee on Small Modular Reactor Licensing, was founded to develop a paper outlining ANS positions on the various issues associated with the licensing of small modular reactors. Issues to be covered in the paper, scheduled for release in June, include aspects of physical security, staffing and other elements that are independent of the reactor technology.

To add to these findings, a third committee is being formed to compile a report describing the advantages and disadvantages of spent nuclear fuel management options, both those with the necessary technology already in place and those with the needed technology likely to be available in the near future. Other issues to be considered include environmental, economic and social factors.

These efforts regarding the global nuclear future correspond with my recent work on behalf of ANS to establish common ground with the Nuclear Society of Russia. As a result, at the 2009 ANS Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., the Nuclear Society of Russia’s first president, Evgeny Velikhov, joined me in signing an agreement between the two societies.

Under this agreement, ANS and the Nuclear Society of Russia have pledged to work with their respective nations’ political leadership to create a global nuclear technology supply-and-return system, thereby providing incentives for client nations to defer the construction of indigenous fuel cycle facilities.

Furthermore, the societies have agreed to advocate for the development of advanced small- and medium-sized nuclear power generation systems by highlighting their unique capabilities, such as providing grid-appropriate generation capacities of 25 to 300 MWe; extending refueling intervals to five or more years; utilizing inherent passive safety designs to reduce risks of operational safety errors; employing technological advances to allow remote monitoring of reactor operations and to counter internal and external security threats; and enabling on-site construction, as well as easy transportation to client nations before installation and back to vendor nations after the reactors’ operational lifetimes.

By promoting these benefits of small modular reactors, ANS is providing the nuclear industry with a path to move beyond merely discussing the nuclear renaissance and toward finally “getting it done.”

Author: Dr. Sanders is president of the American Nuclear Society and co-founder and former vice president of the American Council on Global Nuclear Competitiveness.

 

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