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Setback For Small Nuclear Reactors: B&W Cuts mPower Funding 165

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the invest-in-canned-air dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes with news that funding for the mPower, a Small Modular [Nuclear] Reactor, has been cut due to the inability to find investors interested in building a prototype. From the article: "The pullback represents a major blow to the development of SMRs, which have been hailed as the next step forward for the nuclear power industry. ... All told, B&W, the DOE, and partners have spent around $400 million on the mPower program. Another $600 million was needed just to get the technology ready for application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for licensing. ... B&W plans to continue low-level R&D on the mPower technology with a view to commercial deployment in the mid-2020s, said CEO James Ferland. But without a major shift in the business environment and in investor perceptions of the risks and rewards associated with nuclear power, that seems fanciful."
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Setback For Small Nuclear Reactors: B&W Cuts mPower Funding

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  • KickStarter? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Jack Griffin (3459907)
    Well?
    • Small reactors face a tough challenge. They become economical with a large production scale, but the initial market is not large enough to build that production pipeline, so it really is more expensive than large reactors.

      Add the challenges of competition with natural gas bringing down electricity prices considerably along with a continued weak economy and therefore lack of demand growth, the high cost of building the first SMRs puts them out of reach.

      Large reactors make more sense. They cost less per
      • by gewalker (57809)

        Wouldn't it be more accurate to say the Large reactors make more sense in some situations?

        If all you need is 50 MW, building a 1 GW plant makes no sense. If you have a projected growth of 25MW per year, and you are bumping against capacity, you have the choice of building out a 50 MW mini-nuke every 2 years or a 1 GW plant every 40 years, the time-value of money on a big plant will kill you for production costs in the short term.

        Maybe the modular plant will actually be cheaper once your start producing them

        • Wouldn't it be more accurate to say the Large reactors make more sense in some situations?

          Yes, that would be more accurate. There may be global markets where the SMR makes more sense, and certainly if there were an easy path to permit an old fossil site for SMR, then that would be an option. However, the permit path is challenging and costly, and the global market is not clear.

          I actually like some of the very small "battery" SMR designs better than the mid sized ones, as they may have enough niche market appeal to support them, but again regulatory constraints add to the challenges for succes

  • by macpacheco (1764378) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:18AM (#46865305)

    Still insisting on the same basic concept that gave us reactors that use just 0,5% to 1% of mined uranium and have the concept of a meltdown.
    Even the most advanced water cooled reactor today still does that.
    B&W mPower reactor is just a smalled version of the same.
    When will this people learn ?
    We need a breeder / near breeder reactor that is able to use bare minimum 10% of uranium mined, or much more.
    liquid fuel instead of solid fuel, with the fuel molten in the coolant means meltdowns are impossible and heavy neutron poisons (noble gas fission products) can be collected from the reactor quickly, resulting in minimal neutron losses, the lower the neutron losses are, the better the fuel burnup can be (increasing that 0,5% to 1% utilization to much higher levels), plus the less neutron poisons are kept in the reactor, the less excess reactivity exists on the reactor, minimizing the risk of prompt neutron criticality scenarios.
    That's why I don't support any reactor except for molten salt or molten metal coolant designs.
    The AP1000 and similar Gen III+ are plenty safe enough for my taste, but if you honestly discuss even the most remote risks a gen iii+ reactor with non technical people, they will still be against nuclear power. Plus water cooled reactors demand lots of expensive active safety systems like hydrogen+oxygen recombinants, pressurizer, emergency spray, emergency water injection, the list goes on, making the reactor far more expensive than necessary. Perhaps with the mPower being a much lower power reactor, it can do away without some of those systems, but they can't all be eliminated unless the reactor has low pressure operation (only possible with molten salt or molten metal cores).

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      This project demonstrates why we don't have breeder reactors. There is no money, no-one wants to invest. The demand just isn't there, with several countries moving away from nuclear or looking likely to downsize. The financial risks are huge.

      Other types of reactor all have their own issues, which further add to the financial risk investors are looking at. On the other hand you have renewables that are in high demand, where the market place is still open for people to come in and take a share, and where the

    • I'm not disagreeing with you on the basic premises; we should be moving the tech forward. You need to stop worrying about the pressurized system though, and stop using that as a reason to not build more nuclear plants. Conventional fossil fuel plants (modern ones) operate at higher pressures and temperatures than nuclear power plants, where they have traditionally maintained lower temperatures, intentionally, because of the limitations of the zirconium cladding. The risk of failure of the pressurized sys

      • It's not a reason not to build them. I would live at the border fence of an AP1000/ESBWR/new CANDU site without issue.
        The real concert is Gen II reactors on areas with serious tectonic activity. Even tornadoes / hurricanes are not an issue for old reactors.
        But Westinghouse / GE / Toshiba / Hitachi are investing zero on molten salt reactors, with GE / Hitachi insisting on the S-PRISM concept with it's big issue on sodium coolant fires.
        Huge conflict of interest between the current solid fuel reactor business

  • by virtualXTC (609488) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:35AM (#46865367) Homepage
    That's because investors don't want to develop a product to compete with something that already exists [fastcompany.com] (and is very well funded) but is having regulatory issues:
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@NoSPaM.mac.com> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:50AM (#46865415) Journal

    Given the work China and India are doing on molten-salt Thorium cycle reactors, I can't see why anyone would spend another dime on a pressurized water reactor again.

    -jcr

    • by macpacheco (1764378) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:59AM (#46865449)

      India is decades away. Perhaps China might make it happen before 2030. A big part of China and India's effort is an academic / jobs program. I'm not saying they are incompetent, but they are not results focused. I'm hoping to seeing the first molten salt reactor circa 2025, in commercial operation. For now I'm going out on a limb, but a few years we'll know the credibility of that project with more certainty.
      I'm talking about Terrestrial Energy Inc of Canada, Dr. David LeBlanc brainchild. His molten salt presentations are the most end goal oriented ones, focusing very clearly on getting to the market instead of selling an optimal idea. Giving up many optional features for minimizing certification issues to the greatest extent possible. Focusing on the minimum design that will be usable with an order of magnitude better fuel burnup, safety, simplicity and cost than typical large water cooled reactors. The full LFTR design is a great idea, filled with design challenges and regulatory issues along the way. Dr LeBlanc design is derived from the ORNL DMSR. LFTR design as advocated by FLiBe energy is on the other end of the spectrum.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        India is has almost completed construction of what you say is "decades away".
        • India is has almost completed construction of what you say is "decades away".

          Are you talking about the PFR at Kalpakkam [wikipedia.org]?

          Or the AHWR at Bhabha [wikipedia.org]?

          Because neither of them is a molten salt reactor.

          • Both projects are solid oxide fuel. One Heavy Water Thermal, one Sodium Fast reactor.
            Running Thorium on water / heavy water cooled reactors in solid fuel format gives marginal benefits over uranium fuel. And it's nothing new. The Shipping Port reactor ran it's last fuel load using Thorium. That was decades ago.
            It's mostly interesting for countries that have little uranium reserves and ample thorium ones.
            But it still keeps using very little of the mined nuclear materials, since fuel swells with noble gas fis

        • by dcollins (135727)

          That's an oft-repeated myth. The fact is that India has just recently entered Phase II of their 3-stage nuclear program (spanning at least a century in total).

          "According to replies given in Q&A in the Indian Parliament on two separate occasions, 19 August 2010 and 21 March 2012, large scale thorium deployment is only to be expected '3 – 4 decades after the commercial operation of fast breeder reactors with short doubling time'.[66][31] Full exploitation of India’s domestic thorium reserves w

    • by 12WTF$ (979066)

      Molten Salt's coming. Patented to the hilt by the worlds biggest patent troll.

      Given the work China and India are doing on molten-salt Thorium cycle reactors, I can't see why anyone would spend another dime on a pressurized water reactor again.

      Given the patent portfolio that Nathan Mordvold holds on molten-salt Thorium cycle reactors, I can't see why anyone can afford to spend another minute thinking that thorium is going to be economic.

      • by jcr (53032)

        Heh... I can just imagine Myhrvold trying to enforce a patent against the Chinese government in China.

        -jcr

    • by mbkennel (97636) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @02:23AM (#46865661)

      Because there are engineering designs for pressurized water reactors which work and decades of experience making them, and molten-salt cycle reactors intrinsically dissolve large amounts of high-level waste in a liquid in normal operation---(water soluble too sometimes)---and make every nuclear plant also a horrifyingly nasty radioactive reprocessing plant.

      I'm for fission (not because it's great but because coal and global warming are much worse), but I like my megacuries encased in zirconium, and very solid.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @03:48AM (#46865907) Homepage

      I can't see why anyone would spend another dime on a pressurized water reactor again.

      Because so far no-one has managed to demonstrate a successful commercial scale thorium reactor. All the research ones have run into severe problems. There are still many technical problems to be solved, which will require a lot of money. The only people willing to take on that kind of risk are governments looking to build a nuclear industry and research base from scratch, i.e. China and India.

      Even if China or India do demonstrate a working design don't expect to see it in the US any time soon. One of the biggest problems is decommissioning a highly contaminated reactor at the end of its life, and so far it looks like they are saying they will figure that out "later". Good luck getting that past any other country's regulator.

      • by AlterEager (1803124) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @06:35AM (#46866335)

        I can't see why anyone would spend another dime on a pressurized water reactor again.

        Because so far no-one has managed to demonstrate a successful commercial scale thorium reactor.

        Lots of people seem to think that all thorium reactors are molten salt.

        No.

        People are planning/have already tried burning Thorium in:

        Pebble bed reactors
        CANDU
        Sodium cooled breeders
        PWR's
        BWR's
        Accelerator driven reactors...

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Sure, but name one in commercial operation by a for-profit company (because the US would never stand for the government doing it) that uses Thorium as its primary fuel, and gets all the purported benefits that are often mentioned on Slashdot like being impossible to melt down.

    • Because most of the worlds infrastructure centers around supplying pressurized and boiling water designs? You'd have to invest in new infrastructure in addition to new reactors...
  • Direct money toward large nuclear reactors!

    Who the hell wants a ton of little reactors all over the place that when they run out of fuel we basically bury it and hope no one stumbles upon it.

    Stick with the big plants, just use the new safer designs and BUILD them. This was a complete waste of money. This idea was never going to fly and still won't. As a strong proponent of nuclear power, I don't even like this idea (due to the waste left behind.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by confused one (671304)

      They are wanted for two reasons.

      1. small is cheaper. You can build a 100MW reactor for much less than you can build a 1500MW. It costs less to refuel. When it does go down for maintenance or repairs, it costs less to replace the power it was producing (the scale of the backup plant capacity is smaller). We are having problems getting the high cost 1500MW plants built; so, by making the cost an order of magnitude lower, it is hoped we can get the industry moving forward again

      2. Cost savings, consistenc

    • I missed a point. You're assuming that the small reactors are abandoned when they use up their fuel load. I've seen a few ideas come out of industry source that suggest that's possible using reactors in the 10-50MWt range; but, I think they're only intending to leave the reactor long enough to cool down, as they do now with spent fuel, moving it to temporary storage in pools. The intent of most of the small modular reactors is to refuel them. Even the little 10MW Toshiba 4S design was advertised as desi
  • They were in a rush to get them up, a popular story was the critical job of building the dome to one of them, 24 hour round the clock overtime to gold plate that puppy. A friend of mine was studying to operate the reactors when in class they were told to grab their stuff as they no longer had a job and don't let the door swing into you on the way out. The dome was later cut up and sold as salvage, as was the rest of the equipment used.

    "Energy Northwest (formerly Washington Public Power Supply System) is a United States public power joint operating agency formed by State law in 1957 to produce at-cost power for Northwest utilities. Headquartered in Richland, Washington, the WPPSS became commonly known as "Whoops" due to over-commitment to nuclear power in the 1970s which brought about financial collapse and the second largest municipal bond default in U.S. history."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

    A lot of people got hurt over that one.

  • Some small nuclear reactors can be quite stable and run for a long time...
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • by JabrTheHut (640719) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @07:38AM (#46866523)
    If they think there will be any need for this by the mid-2020s, they're in for a rude awakening and a nasty financial loss.

    Solar panels have dropped in price by 65% in the last two years. They're expecting another 60% price drop by 2020, and efficiency isn't being sacrificed - it's only getting better, with 25% being achieved in the lab now. Research is also much cheaper - researchers ask for grants such as $5 million or $15 million, not the $1 billion mentioned in the article.

    Combine wind farms, hydro power, solar thermal, and the recent improvements with storing energy, both as potential energy and in batteries, and I doubt any one will want to invest in "small" nuclear reactors, either now or 10 years from now. Solar panels aren't the fix for everything, but they will make it uneconomical to put in place big, expensive nuclear reactors, which are only small and cheap by comparison to even bigger ones.
    • We're not going to be there in 10 years. While it is theoretically possible to supply all our energy needs through a combination of renewables (excluding nuclear, which is often included as a renewable), capacity factor has been a problem. Even with storage, you can't make up for the capacity factor issue. The infrastructure investment requirements are also huge. We will still need big base load plants and nuclear fits that bill quite well.
      • by olau (314197)

        Regarding capacity factors and storage, there's a study from University of Delaware [udel.edu] that concludes:

        Renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9 percent of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses, according to new research by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College.

        If you're basing your remarks on capacity factors numbers from older tech, keep in mind that these are improving, e.g. offshore wind can easily have capacity factors of 50-55%.

        But it's true it requires investments, and it probably won't happen until old plants need to be scrapped anyway.

        • That study (which I just skimmed, I'll read it in more detail tonight) says that to supply 72GW of peak electrical demand with 99.9% reliability we would have to build 230GW of wind and solar capacity and build an energy storage system (they suggested hydrogen) of 51GW peak capacity (2.47GWh). For the times the renewables cannot meet demand, the study calls for maintaining 28.3 GW of fossil fuel plants and supporting infrastructure available, which is nearly the entire 31.5GW average load for PJM's custome

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Solar panels have dropped in price by 65% in the last two years. They're expecting another 60% price drop by 2020, and efficiency isn't being sacrificed - it's only getting better, with 25% being achieved in the lab now
      And they only generate power about 6 hours a day and not at peak need times. BTW peak need is between 5 and 7 pm not at solar noon.
      PVs are not the problem storage is and that is not improving anywhere near as fast. Throw in clouds, rain, and or snow and you should see the issue.
      Nuclear makes

      • by FirstOne (193462)

        With ~150,000 megatons(*) worth of fission byproducts lying about, waiting for the next accident/natural disaster/Loss of cooling/war to be released into biosphere. The last thing we need, to is increase that inventory above the ~5,500 megatons we currently are producing each year.

        (*)Note: Assumes Megaton's worth of fission isotopes is created for every 0.4tWh of electricity produced by a NPP, No accounting for decay since much of the radioactive food chain isotopes, (Internal radiators, Sr-90, Cs-134,

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          "With ~150,000 megatons(*) worth of fission byproducts lying about, waiting for the next accident/natural disaster/Loss of cooling/war to be released into biosphere. The last thing we need, to is increase that inventory above the ~5,500 megatons we currently are producing each year."
          Really? what the heck are you talking about? Just what unit of measure are you using? Megatons? There is are not 150 billion tons of spent fuel rods?
          And no reactor has 80 million tons of fuel
          " The addition of those radio-isotope

          • by FirstOne (193462)

            "And no reactor has 80 million tons of fuel" Bzzzt.. Just in you're totally clueless.. The Megaton's refers to Fission Bomb yield equivalent..

            The worlds total N-weapon arsenal is less than a few thousand Megatons of Fission byproduct (bomb equivalence), if they were all to be detonated in one day, Note: Modern N-weapon designs are ~50%fission(dirty)/~50% fusion(relatively clean), And only a small fraction is ready to deploy in an initial exchange.

            Meanwhile more than 150 times that amount resides insi

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              "The Megaton's refers to Fission Bomb yield equivalent.."
              Buzzzzz....Just in you are an idiot.
              The radioisotope yield of a bomb is variable. A one megaton bomb detonated at the surface will produce a much larger yield of fallout than one detonated at 20,000 meters. Also different bombs have different yields of fallout based on design.
              ": Modern N-weapon designs are ~50%fission(dirty)/~50% fusion(relatively clean), And only a small fraction is ready to deploy in an initial exchange."
              Ahnn no. I suggest you rese

              • by FirstOne (193462)

                Less than 25% of US spent fuel(as of 2009) has been dry cask'd.. Most fuel (world wide) remains in common spent fuel pools.

                Fukushima on 3/11/2011 had a total dry storage capacity of 408 fuel assemblies for all six reactors, verses capacity for over ~10000 fuel assemblies(~75% full) in seven spent fuel pools, with another 2000 to 3000 assemblies still inside the reactors.

                Thus Fukishima's Dry casked storage represents less than 5% of total storage.. But even dry casked storage(requires maintenance) and tha

              • by FirstOne (193462)

                "You have also not mentioned your ASTRONOMICAL error claiming 60 million deaths from fall out." Why should I? I included a referenced click able link, that's a lot more credible than your claims. No error on my part, just the unvarnished truth that you don't want to admit exists.

                Nuclear power always has been a fools bargain, their will be no winners..

    • Solar panels have dropped in price by 65% in the last two years.

      How much of that is due to Chinese dumping?

      • > How much of that is due to Chinese dumping?

        About 10%. The real driver is the almost zero cost of pSi, who's market price is completely determined by supply/demand. Additional supply is coming on this year, everyone's expecting widespread availability in retail in the 50 to 60 cent range. To put this in perspective, in spite of PV being installed at record rates last year, the total amount of cash used to do it fell about 10%.

        > efficiency isn't being sacrificed - it's only getting better, with 25% be

        • How much of that is due to Chinese dumping?

          About 10%. The real driver is the almost zero cost of pSi, who's market price is completely determined by supply/demand.

          pSi isn't an element, or a chemical... so, it sounds like you're spouting crap you don't even understand.

          In contrast, PV systems in Germany take 2 weeks, end to end, on average. The output may be lower, but the ROI kicks ass.

          And this is proof positive of your lack of a clue. The situation in Germany exists because of a seriously distor

        • It's all about interest rates, believe it or not. Nuclear plants simply take too long to build. You have to pay for years and years of interest before you get any income. In contrast, PV systems in Germany take 2 weeks, end to end, on average. The output may be lower, but the ROI kicks ass.

          And that is the advantage of mPower, which can set up in under 2 years.

  • by mspohr (589790) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:56PM (#46869391)

    Another instance showing the high costs and low returns of nuclear power. Nuclear power is not affordable. It gets more expensive over time. The "learning curve" is negative. It relies on massive government subsidies and has serious unsolved problems with waste.
    OTOH, solar and wind are getting cheaper and are now less expensive than nuclear.
    It just doesn't make sense to invest in nuclear when solar and wind are cheaper, have fewer problems and are already scaling rapidly.

    • wrong. This can be made to be DIRT cheap. The issue is that these reactors need to be replaced with new safe reactors.
  • These small reactors already are designed and in production:

    The S6W and its line of small [wikipedia.org] reactors are reliable and safe. The rector compartment on a typical submarine is about 30' in diameter and 30' in length.

    These generate ~ 50 Thermal Megawatts which translate into about 40,000 horse power or about 29 megawatts of electricity.

    • by FlyingGuy (989135)

      My memory is really fading.. The S6g provided ~ 148 thermal megawatts which is ~ 45 megawatts of electricity. Although the Rankine cycle is pretty much fixed you can build more efficient turbines and steam generators that do not have to exist in the very tight confines of a submarine.

  • They should be going full steam ahead. A number of companies have to shot down their current nuke reactors. BUT, they have the sites set up for nukes. IOW, it is EASY to add reactors to these sites. As such, mPower should be approaching a number of them pushing their reactors and pushing to get them in CHEAP.

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