Miniature Nuclear Plants Seek Approval

“We’re building iPhones when the nuclear industry has traditionally built mainframe computers”

Said John Deal, CEO of Hyperion Power Generation in an interview with Business Week.

While utility-scale reactors cost about $2.3 billion apiece and produce 1.2 gigawatts of power, Hyperion’s price tag is $50 million for a 25-megawatt reactor more comparable to a diesel generators or wind farms.

Transportable by truck, the units would come in a sealed box and work around the clock, requiring less maintenance than a fossil fuel plant, the developers say. They’d cost 15 percent less per megawatt of capacity than the average full-scale atomic reactors now in on the drawing board, according to World Nuclear Association data.

“A 25-megawatt plant would put electricity into 20,000 homes, and it would fit inside this room,” James Kohlhaas, vice president at a Lockheed Martin Corp. unit that builds power systems for remote military bases, said in an interview. “It’s a pretty elegant micro-grid solution.”

Certifying and building small reactors will require the same multi-year licensing procedure necessary for bigger plants. And since no small-scale systems are operating, there’s no track record to know how well they will work.

That last paragraph flags one of the most insurmountable roadblocks to mass-manufactured modular nuclear power. The NRC is structured for mega-nuclear only. Only the US Congress can fix that problem, by amending the charter of NRC to provide realistically priced services to the modular plant innovators like Hyperion, or NuScale. The head of the IAEA agrees:

“Whether it’s a small or large reactor, the hoops you have to jump through are the same,” said Hans-Holger Rogner, head of economic planning at the International Atomic Energy Agency. “You open up a Pandora’s Box of intervention from society every time you try to build any kind of nuclear plant.”