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« The good news about uranium | Main | The Government should not delay on its nuclear power plans »

The Next Nuclear Reactor May Arrive Hauled by a Truck


THE first commercial nuclear plant in the United States,commissioned in 1957, was just a scaled-up version of the reactors that powered submarines, and for decades afterward engineers made them bigger and bigger to maximize economies of scale.

But the hot idea now is to think small — small enough to fit a reactor on a railroad car or even a heavy-haul truck.

Such a reactor could be built in a factory, sidestepping the problems of assuring high-quality fabrication in the field and allowing fast installation. And such reactors would have a built-in safety feature: in an emergency, natural convection could help a small core cool faster than a big one, just the way a cup of coffee cools faster than a pot of coffee. Proponents say that makes meltdowns far less likely.

“They offer the potential for a new paradigm in how we think about construction of nuclear power plants,” Peter B. Lyons, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said of the so-called small modular reactors, also known as S.M.R.’s. He is supervising a program under which the government will pay up to half of the development cost of two different models. One manufacturer already has a contract to develop a plan for two small reactors in Tennessee.

Because the plants could be safer as well as faster and easier to install, they do not have to surpass big reactors in cost per kilowatt-hour, Mr. Lyons said in an interview. “If it is even equal, it is a winner,” he said. “If it’s better, it’s more than a winner.”

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