Feature

The little reactors that could

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Science  22 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6429, pp. 806-809
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6429.806

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Summary

To a world facing the existential threat of global warming, nuclear power would appear to be a desperately needed source of power that does not produce heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas. However, with new reactors costing $7 billion or more, nuclear power struggles to compete with cheaper forms of energy, such as natural gas, supplying just 11% of electrical power globally, down from a high of 17.6% in 1996. Jose Reyes, a nuclear engineer and co-founder of NuScale Power, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, says he and his colleagues can revive nuclear by thinking small. Reyes and NuScale's 350 employees have designed a small modular reactor (SMR) that would take up 1% of the space of a conventional gigawatt reactor and generate just 60 megawatts. For about $3 billion, NuScale would stack up to 12 SMRs side by side, like beer cans in a six pack, to form a power plant. The design is now working its way through licensing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the company has tentatively lined up a first customer to build a plant in Idaho by 2027. NuScale is riding a global wave of interest in SMRs, and some experts predict it will be a formidable international competitor.