One the heels of our story on Western Troy Capital Resources’ little nuke announcement, we get word that a Sandia National Lab team has a new small-reactor design. The reactor’s output is projected to be in the range of 100 to 300 megawatts of thermal power, and structurally it would be “about the size of half a fairly large office building,” as the press release puts it. The small-scale economically efficient nuclear reactor could be mass-assembled in factories and supply power for a medium-size city.

The timing of this release is a little odd because it turns out that it was actually announced last December. Regardless, Tom Sanders is leading the SNL research team that has a goal to create an exportable, proliferation-resistant “right-sized reactor” that incorporates intrinsic safeguards, security and safety, and still can produce electricity for less than five cents per kilowatt hour.

The proposal offers a way for possible export sales of the reactor to developing countries that do not have the infrastructure to support large power generation. The smaller reactor design decreases the potential need for a country to develop an advanced nuclear regulatory framework. As noted by WTCR, there is also a possible market for small reactors in developed countries that have remote cities (like Canada). But SNL acknowledges that the first customers might be military bases in the U.S. and in other countries.

The reactor design includes an integrated monitoring system that provides the exporters of such technologies a means of assuring the safe, secure and legitimate use of nuclear technology.

The reactor system is built around a small uranium core submerged in a tank of liquid sodium. The liquid sodium is piped through the core to carry the heat away to a heat exchanger, which is also submerged in the tank of sodium. In the Sandia system, the reactor heat is transferred to a very efficient supercritical CO2 turbine to produce electricity. This form of heat management is considered “passive” in as much as a meltdown isn’t possible

The Sandia “right-sized” reactors are breeder reactors, meaning they generate their own fuel as they operate. Thus they are designed to have an extended operational life and only need to be refueled once every couple of decades, which also helps alleviate proliferation concerns.

SNL reports that the reactor will include what the lab terms “nuke-star” antiproliferation technology. Given the relative maturity of reactor technology, it is probably safe to assume that nuke-star technology is really at the center of SNL’s belief that manufacturing reactors at this scale can now move forward. But, understandably, the lab is revealing little about how nuke-star works. Sanders, however, says, “[The reactor core is replaced as a unit and] in effect is a cartridge core for which any intrusion attempt is easily monitored and detected.” The reactor system has no need for operator fuel handling.

About 85 percent of the design efforts are completed for the reactor core. The team is seeking an industry partner through a cooperative research and development agreement. The CRADA team will be able to complete the reactor design and enhance the plant side, which is responsible for turning the steam into electricity.

The lure is, “It could also be a more practical means to implement nuclear-based load capacity comparable to natural gas-fired generating stations and with more manageable financial demands than a conventional power plant,” says Sanders. The cost projections suggest the cost could get down to $250 million once they are made in a mass-production mode.