By Sharryn Dotson, Editor
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced in December that NuScale Power LLC is the second company to receive funding for the development of its small modular reactor (SMR) technology. While small reactors have been in use for decades, building reactors using a modular design is a relatively new concept.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classifies a small nuclear reactor as a unit that generates up to 300 MW of electricity, or about one-third the size of a large-scale nuclear reactor. A small modular reactor is one where the entire nuclear island is built as one piece before it is installed inside the containment shield.
|An artist’s rendering of the Akademik Lomonosov, a floating 70 MW nuclear power plant in Russia. Courtesy: Rosatom|
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said that SMRs could potentially change the power generation landscape around the world as well as in the U.S.
“Once certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, these innovative reactors will have the equivalent of the ‘Gold Seal’ of approval worldwide,” said Paul Genoa, NEI senior director for policy development. “By manufacturing clean energy technology the world demands, we can transfer our safety and security culture along with our technologies—creating high tech jobs right here at home.”
SMRs could potentially be located in many different places, including on small coal-fired power plant sites, in areas without access to transmission lines, or places where demand may be increasing faster than large-scale power plants can be built. David Hess, communication analyst with the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said SMRs are initially more expensive due to being a newer technology.
“The SMR represents a break from the ‘bigger is better’ approach and therefore stands to be more expensive unless it can realize other forms of cost reduction, e.g. through design or economies of mass production – where factory assembly and shipping allows for a high quality production line process,” Hess said.
Hess said that regardless of the price tag, the benefits of the technology would outweigh any financial limitations.
“The construction concept is as important as the rated output,” Hess said. “SMR designs are supposed to challenge the status quo.”
Some countries have been operating small reactors for more than 40 years. Small reactors are also being used in innovative ways to site the reactors while still maintaining power to the grid.
One country that is deploying its small reactors in different ways to meet growing electricity demand in hard-to-reach regions is Russia. The country’s state-owned power company, Rosatom, is building a floating 70 MWe nuclear power plant in the hull of the Akademik Lomonosov, a vessel located in Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Krai. The ship is 144 meters (472 feet) long and 30 meters (98 feet) wide and will use two, Izhorskiye Zavody-produced 35 MWe KLT-40S nuclear reactors. The first 220 tonnes (485,016 pounds) steam generating unit, which includes one of the 35 MWe reactors, was installed on September 27 at the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard where the floating nuclear plant is under construction. Both reactors were installed in the ship’s hull on Oct. 2, according to Rosatom.
The plant is scheduled for completion in December 2016 and will be deployed near the port of Pevek on Russia’s Chukotka peninsula on the East Siberian Sea. The reactors have also been used on the Taymyr and Vaygach nuclear icebreakers, Rosatom said on its site.
Rosatom also operates four, 11 MW nuclear units at the Bilibino nuclear power plant. The units are all light water graphite reactors (LWGR). One unit came online each year between 1974 and 1977, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The country has a total installed nuclear capacity of 23.6 GW across 33 operational reactors at 10 locations. The life expectancy of a reactor in Russia is approximately 30 years, but the government set the period for life extension at 15 years.
India has six nuclear power plants that use small nuclear reactors generating just under a total of 2,000 MW of electricity. According to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), those projects include the Rajasthan, Narora, Kakrapar, Madras, Tarapur and Kaiga nuclear power plants.
The Rajasthan nuclear plant utilizes six units that generate between 90 and 202 MW of electricity each. All six units are pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWR). Units 1 and 2 are CANDU reactors. Unit 1 is the oldest and the smallest, generating 90 MW of electricity since 1973. However, due to performance issues, that unit has been shut down since 2004 as the government considers what to do with it, according to data from the WNA. Rajasthan 2 has a capacity of 187 MW and has been operational since 1981. Units 3 through 6 each generate 202 MW of electricity each. Units 3 and 4 came online in 2000, and units 5 and 6 began operations in 2010. The units were designed and built by NPCIL based on a Canadian design.
The two units at the Narora nuclear power plant are PHWRs that generate 202 MW of electricity. Units 1 and 2 have been operational since 1991 and 1992, respectively. Unit 2 was refurbished with replacement calandria tubes in a project that started in 2009 and lasted a year.
The 202 MW Kakrapar Unit 1 is also a PHWR that began operations in 1993. Twin reactor Unit 2 began service in 1995. Unit 1 was fully refurbished and upgraded from 2009 to 2010 after 16 years of operation.
Both units at the Madras nuclear power plant in Kalpakkam are PHWRs that generate 205 MW of electricity each. Unit 1 began operations in 1984, and Unit 2 followed in 1986. Unit 1 was refurbished in 2002 to 2003, and Unit 2 was refurbished from 2004 to 2005. Capacity was restored to 220 MWe and their lifespans were extended to 2033 for Unit 1 and 2036 for Unit 2.
Tarapur units 1 and 2 are General Electric boiling water reactors (BWR) that generate 150 MW of electricity each. They have been operational since 1969. They were built as 200 MWe reactors, but were downrated due to recurring problems, the WNA said. The units were refurbished in 2005 after Russia stopped supplying enriched uranium. In March 2006, Russia agreed to supply the uranium again.
The Kaiga power plant uses four, 220 MWe units. Units 1 and 2 have been in operation since 2000, Unit 3 began service in 2007, and Unit 4 started operations in 2011.
After the 2011 Fukushima accident, several NPCIL taskforces made recommendations to improve the safety of the Tarapur BWRs and all of the PHWRs in the country. The Tarapur reactors have undergone the safety enhancements, but the Madras plant must install enhanced flood defenses to protect against tsunamis higher than the 100-foot tall tsunami that hit in 2004.
Pakistan, as of September 2013, has 725 MWe of capacity in its small nuclear power program, according to the WNA. The Chashma 1 power plant in Punjab province uses a 325 MWe two-loop pressurized water reactor (PWR) supplied by China-based CNNC. The plant began commercial operation in 2000, and is also known as CHASNUPP 1. CHASNUPP 1 began operations in 2000. CHASNUPP 2, a 300 MWe net reactor, began commercial operation in 2011. CHASNUPP 1 and 2 are expected to shut down in 2040 and 2051, respectively, when they reach their life expectancies.
The 125 MW Karachi 1 nuclear power plant, or KANUPP 1, has been in operation since 1972. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission operates that reactor.
|The Karachi 1 nuclear power plant in Pakistan uses a 137 MW Candu reactor. Courtesy: Candu Energy|
Pakistan has said that it plans to build 8,000 MWe of nuclear in the country by 2025. The Chinese government announced on January 2, 2014, that it would lend $6.5 billion to Pakistan to help build new nuclear power plants in the country, though the government did not specify the capacity range of the reactors. The loans would be provided through China’s Exim Bank and be repaid at a concessional rate over 20 years.
While China is helping Pakistan meet its nuclear goals, the Chinese government has plans to install an additional 70 GW by 2020, according to the EIA.
The 298 MW Qinshan Unit 1 is a pressurized water reactor (PWR) that has been operational since 1994. It is owned by the Qinshan Nuclear Power Co. and is located in mainland China. China is also building a 210 MW High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor Pebble-bed Module (HTR-PM) reactor at Shidaowan in Weihai city, Shandong province. The reactor will drive a single 210 MWe steam turbine and is being built as part of the Rongcheng Nuclear Power Industrial Park project. Huaneng Power is investing 5 billion yen ($826.2 million) into the project, and Tsinghua University holds a 20 percent stake in the project. Commercial operation is scheduled for 2017. The owner of the plant is CHNG Shandong Shidaowan Nuclear Power Co. Ltd., a consortium of China Huaneng Group, CNEC Corp. and Tsinghua Holdings Co. Ltd. The consortium will be responsible for the construction and operation of the demonstration project, the CNEC site said.
According to the WNA, the HTR-PM reactor was initially designed to be a 200 MWe reactor, but the plant design has evolved so that they are now being built as twin 105 MWe reactors with a single steam generator.
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