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Small nuclear power plants shipped in containers would be installed everywhere

We may be on the verge of a new paradigm for the use of nuclear energy, a group of nuclear experts recently pointed out in The Bridge. Just as large, expensive, and centralized computers gave way to today’s widely distributed PCs, so could relatively small and inexpensive, factory-built reactors. These new generation power plants are designed as if they were oversized batteries that would operate in an autonomous plug-and-play manner.

These proposed systems would generate heat for industrial processes or generate electricity for military purposes, for example. bases or a residential area. They could operate unattended for up to five to ten years and then be returned to the factory for refilling and refurbishment. The authors of the study called these small power plants “nuclear batteries.” Because of their simple operation, they could play a significant role in decarbonising the world’s electricity system to prevent catastrophic climate change.

MIT News asked Jacopo Buongiorno, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, lead author of the study, to explain

The researcher said that the reactor units they described enhance the concept of plant production and modularity to the extreme. Previous proposals for microreactors have dealt with reactors with an electrical output of 100 to 300 megawatts, which are ten times smaller than conventional large, gigawatt nuclear reactors. These could be assembled from factory-made parts, but some on-site assembly and a lot of on-site preparation work is still required. So this is an improvement over conventional power plants, but they do not change.

The concept of a nuclear battery is different because the physical size and power of these devices – about 10 megawatts – are also different. It is so small that the entire power plant is actually built in one factory and fits in a standard container.

This has a number of economic advantages. The installation of these nuclear power plant batteries does not involve the management of a large construction site, which has been the primary source of scheduling delays and cost overruns for nuclear projects over the last 20 years.

Nuclear batteries can be commissioned quickly in, say, a few weeks. , and become an energy service according to certain needs. Therefore, nuclear energy can be considered as a product and not as a mega-project

Nuclear batteries under development are extremely robust. This is one of the arguments in favor of technology. The small physical size helps with security in several ways. First, the residual heat must be removed when the reactor is shut down. Second, the reactor core has a high surface area / volume ratio, which also makes it easier to keep the nuclear fuel cool in all conditions without external interference. The system essentially takes care of itself, the professor said.

Third, the reactor is surrounded by a very compact and strong steel protective structure that provides protection against the release of radioactivity into the biosphere. To increase safety, they envisage that at most sites, these nuclear elements would be located underground to provide an additional level of protection if anything or anyone wanted to damage them.

Small nuclear power plants shipped in containers would be installed everywhere

Another advantage is that there is already experience in the production of microreactors . NASA and the Los Alamos National Laboratory demonstrated a space-based microreactor over three years (2015-2018) from design to production and testing. This development cost $ 20 million, leveraging the Department of Energy’s available nuclear technology infrastructure. This cost and schedule is orders of magnitude lower than that of conventional large nuclear power plants, which can easily cost billions of dollars and take five to a decade to build.

Half a dozen companies are currently working on their own plans. Westinghouse, for example, is designing a nuclear battery that uses heat pipe technology for cooling. The first such equipment will be operational as a demonstration unit within three years. This would be a pilot plant in one of the state science development centers. According to Buongiorno, for example, the Idaho National Laboratory has a number of facilities that can be converted to accommodate these small reactors for intensive testing.

The reactor can be exposed to more extreme conditions than we would ever encounter under normal operation. , and direct tests can be used to demonstrate that the failure limits are not exceeded. This can give confidence to large – scale (commercial – based) installations. In addition, they can be placed exactly where their performance is needed, thus reducing the need for expensive and delicate energy transmission and storage infrastructure. If they spread as far as we can, they can make a significant contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, “said Jacopo Buongiorno.

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Sandra Loyd
Sandra is the Reporter working for World Weekly News. She loves to learn about the latest news from all around the world and share it with our readers.

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