One hope buoying nuclear energy advocates has been the promise of “small modular reactor” designs. By dividing a nuclear facility into an array of smaller reactors, they can largely be manufactured in a factory and then dropped into place, saving us from having to build a complex, possibly one-of-a-kind behemoth on site. That could be a big deal for nuclear’s persistent financial problems, while also enabling some design features that further improve safety.
On Friday, the first small modular reactor received a design certification from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, meaning that it meets safety requirements and could be chosen by future projects seeking licensing and approval.
The design comes from NuScale, a company birthed from research at Oregon State University that has received some substantial Department of Energy funding. It’s a 76-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide steel cylinder (23 meters by 5 meters) capable of producing 50 megawatts of electricity. (The company also has a 60-megawatt iteration teed up.) They envision a plant employing up to 12 of these reactors in a large pool like those used in current nuclear plants.