February 6, 2005

A new reactor in Alaska

Very cool! From the Seattle Post Intelligencer comes this article: bq. Alaska town considers small nuclear reactor to cut costs The tiny town of Galena, Alaska, which pays three times as much for electricity as the national average, is looking into a novel way to cut that cost by two-thirds: a tiny nuclear reactor. bq. Yesterday, the town manager and a deputy mayor sat down with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to learn how a plant is licensed. They talked about their current logistics to obtain power -- shipping diesel fuel in by barge during the brief window when the Yukon River is not frozen over -- and their efforts to find an alternative. bq. There is a coal seam about 10 miles away. But no one builds coal plants that are small and clean enough, said the manager, Marvin Yoder, and the cost of permits to open a new mine might make the whole project impractical. bq. The town even looked at solar power, Yoder said. But demand in Galena is highest in winter, when it is dark 20 hours a day, and residents need electricity to keep cars and even diesel fuel from freezing. bq. But then along came Toshiba, which performs maintenance and repair work on conventional nuclear reactors around the world. The company is trying to develop a new reactor that would run almost unattended and put out 10 megawatts of power, about 1 percent as much as a typical U.S. plant. The PI article also goes into the seeming ignorance of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- they didn't know about this technology and said that the bill to examine it would be about $10 million. The representative from the town of Galena told them that this would be payed by the manufacturer -- the NRC then said that the site plan would cost a couple more million bucks... This story is covered here as well with a bit more technical detail on the design of the reactor: bq. Alaska Village Moves from Diesel to 'Micro-Nuke' The small town of Galena, Alaska, is tired to pay 28 cents/kwh for its electricity, three times the national average. Today, Galena "is powered by generators burning diesel that is barged in during the Yukon River's ice-free months," according to Reuters. But Toshiba, which designs a small nuclear reactor named 4S (for "Super Safe, Small, & Simple"), is offering a free reactor to the 700-person village, reports the New York Times (no reg. needed). Galena will only pay for operating costs, driving down the price of electricity to less than 10 cents/kwh. The 4S is a sodium-cooled fast spectrum reactor -- a low-pressure, self-cooling reactor. It will generate power for 30 years before refueling and should be installed before 2010 providing an approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I had written about a similar technology here: Cool reactor technology Nuclear technology got off on a very bad foot in this country. For a long time, each power plant was different so maintenance issues were usually a matter of a big surprise rather than engineered and scheduled. If the power industry developed a set of standard cores (as does France, Japan and the US Navy), problems could be isolated and then fixed in all other units of that type. The waste needs taking care of but it is a much smaller volume than the waste from Coal plants and because it needs to be sequestered because of the radiologic effects, the chemical issues never surface. Coal waste is very toxic, there are severe groundwater problems and the volume is so high that there is no "clever" way to sequester it. More people have died from operating coal power plants than have died from nuclear. The climate control and the environmental people have always gone ballistic when anyone mentions nuclear but if they took a closer look at it, it would be the way to go -- zero emissions except for heat, no carbon, minimal and easily controlled waste. What is not to love? Posted by DaveH at February 6, 2005 8:55 PM
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