WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 15, 2009—Legislative proposals pending in Congress to accelerate development of small, scalable reactors with electric generating capacities of no more than 300 megawatts are supported by industry and should be enacted expeditiously, an industry leader told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.
The establishment of a private/government partnership to work together on the research and development of small reactor technology would greatly enhance a diversified energy strategy aimed at boosting energy sources that can meet rising electricity demand while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, said Anthony Pietrangelo, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer.
“Large nuclear energy facilities will provide the bulk of additional electricity in the near future, but small, modular reactors will act as a complement to these large-scale projects and expand the applications for carbon-free nuclear energy,” Pietrangelo said.
Small reactors also have multi-use capabilities combining electricity generation with industrial process heat applications such as those used in the petrochemical industry and coal-to-liquids applications.
Pietrangelo cited analyses from the U.S. Energy Information Administration assessing the Waxman-Markey climate legislation and the National Academies of Science, which concluded that the United States must nearly double the existing 100 gigawatts of nuclear energy capacity by 2030 to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
Small reactors of fewer than 300 megawatts—comparable from a capacity standpoint with many renewable energy projects—will be more compatible than large nuclear power plants with the needs of smaller U.S. utilities from an electricity production, transmission and financial perspective, Pietrangelo said. Small reactors also have attractive manufacturing efficiencies.
“These designs can be used to replace inefficient fossil-fired power stations of similar size that may no longer be economical to operate in a carbon-constrained world. The infrastructure, cooling water and transmission facilities already exist at such facilities, and smaller reactors can be built in a controlled factory setting and installed module by module, reducing the financing challenge and matching new electricity production to demand growth,” Pietrangelo said.
He pointed to the success of the Department of Energy’s cost-shared, public-private Nuclear Power 2010 program in reducing business risk and enabling near-term construction of larger advanced-design reactor technologies. A similar effort must be expended for small reactors, he said.
“The development and use of a new nuclear reactor technology can take two decades, with design costs exceeding $1 billion. The cost and time required to design, develop and license a small reactor is not necessarily reduced linearly with size. In addition, it takes time and resources for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop the institutional capacity to license new reactor designs,” Pietrangelo said.
He urged the sponsors of proposed Senate legislation to jump-start small reactor development to work together to combine the provisions of three proposals into a single bill. He also said legislation should include the following provisions:
define the scope, priorities and funding for research and development; define the scope of private sector/government cost-share provisions for design development and prototype simulation or testing; provide funding to assist the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry in resolving generic regulatory issues specific to small-scale reactors; and define private/government cost-share projects for the development, NRC review, and implementation of first-of-class combined license applications for each new type of small-scale reactor.
“The potential benefits of small, modular nuclear energy plants are substantial and should be pursued and supported,” Pietrangelo said. “These designs expand the strategic role of nuclear energy in meeting national environmental, energy security and economic development goals.”
Pietrangelo’s testimony may be found on the NEI Web site at: http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/speechesandtestimony/december-15-2009-anthony-pietrangelo/.