U.S. Approves First Small Nuclear Reactor Design

February 3, 2023

Late last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave final approval to the first small-modular nuclear reactor design, known in the industry as SMR. It’s not the kind of power plant you might picture when you think of nuclear—gone is the massive cooling tower and tall, domed containment building, in favor of a 15-foot-diameter steel cylinder equipped with passive cooling. 

And instead of being bespoke designs built to order on site, these reactors can be manufactured in a factory and hooked together in the field—an approach that can shave years off the construction time for a new nuclear facility. 

This design, proponents say, could allow straight-forward construction of nuclear plants that replace existing coal-fired power facilities, making use of existing grid infrastructure. Advanced reactors could also be used not just for electricity production, but as a low-carbon means of generating the heat needed for certain industrial and chemical processes. However, any proposed design needs to be safe, reliable, and able to address the persistent issue of long-term nuclear waste. 

Dr. Jose Reyes, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of NuScale Power, the company behind the recently approved small modular reactor design, and Christine King, director of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program at Idaho National Lab, joined Ira to discuss the new design, and what the future of nuclear energy might hold.

A rendering of the NuScale VOYGR SMR power plant. Image courtesy of NuScale Power.
A rendering of the NuScale VOYGR SMR power plant. Image courtesy of NuScale Power.
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