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January 21st, 2012

Thinking small is big deal: DOE to push US manufacturing of small modular reactors

Published on January 21st, 2012 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Samples of near-term small modular nuclear reactor designs. Credit: DOE SMR report.

The concept of using small modular nuclear reactors is something we’ve written on several times in the past, and it seems like a viable technology, if not for use in developing nations, at least for use in underdeveloped nations with nearly nonexistent power infrastructures (e.g., nations in the sub-Saharan region of Africa) and for remote outposts (e.g., drilling outposts in northern Canada).

For better or worse, one event that has expanded interest in SMRs is the Fukishima Dai-ichi debacle, which has put the brakes on a lot of large-scale nuclear reactor developments.

And, even though deployment of SMRs in the US may not make much sense for power generation, there seems to be a great deal of support in the engineering, business and political communities for getting the US to be the global leader in manufacturing SMRs for export purposes. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the DOE announced today that it is launching a new effort to accelerate the research, development, demonstration and deployment of SMRs by US-based companies, with the goal of having the first units in approximately 10 years.

In a news release, the DOE announced a draft Funding Opportunity Announcement that will “establish cost-shared agreements with private industry to support the design and licensing of SMRs.”

To be clear, the DOE is not actually seeking applications or proposals at this time. The “draft” reference is there because the agency first intends to get a response from industry and other stakeholders before issuing a full FOA. However, DOE anticipates that the full DOA “will fund up to two SMR designs with the goal of deploying these reactors by 2022.”

For more on SMRs, see the DOE’s 2010 Powerpoint presentation (pdf).

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