Big Plans for Mini Reactors

By Leonard, Kim | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Big Plans for Mini Reactors


Leonard, Kim, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The future of nuclear power may be in smaller reactors that could boost a power plant's output or provide enough electricity to run a factory.

Westinghouse Electric Co., Babcock & Wilcox Co. and federal energy officials are anticipating a market for what is known as a small modular reactor, or SMR.

Cranberry-based Westinghouse has eight full-size AP1000 reactors under construction worldwide, and its experience "will speed the Westinghouse SMR to market with less cost and better economics," said Kate Jackson, chief technology officer and senior vice president of research and technology.

The capsule-like, 225-megawatt mini-reactor design borrows heavily from the AP1000, with safety systems that use gravity rather than access to power if the plant malfunctions. Control rods inside the reactor unlatch and drop when a problem is detected, shutting down the nuclear reaction, for example.

Some other safety advantages: Water sits above the core, to provide cooling in an emergency. And the unit sits below grade, lessening damage potential from above-ground disruptions.

Westinghouse, which built the nation's first nuclear plant in 1957 in Shippingport, is working with scientists at the University of Missouri at Columbia and Missouri University of Science and Technology to build a small reactor at electric utility Ameren Missouri's Callaway Energy Center.

That plant, south of Fulton, Mo., has a generating capacity of 1,290 megawatts. A small Westinghouse reactor could turn out enough power for 45,000 homes.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is preparing for nuclear energy companies' applications to roll in for small reactor designs as early as this year, spokesman Neil Sheehan said. NRC staff talked with Westinghouse in June and July about safety and plant design, and "will continue with limited meetings with Westinghouse as resources allow," he said. …

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