Tiny Nuclear Reactor Design Becomes First in US to Get Safety Approval

This will change the energy sector.
Fabienne Lang
NuScale small nuclear power moduleNuScale

The nuclear energy sector has just received good news. A small nuclear reactor has been given the green safety light from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and can now be used in future projects after licensing and approval. 

The "small modular reactor" is designed by NuScale and could facilitate the nuclear energy sector by keeping financial costs lower. 

This small reactor design can easily be manufactured in factories and then dropped into place easily, without having to build an expensive and huge one-of-a-kind piece on site. 


Conventional design yet with great potential

The small reactor is made up of 76 feet tall (23 meters), 15 feet wide (4.5 meters)  cylinder made of steel that can produce up to 50 megawatts of electricity. NuScale pictures 12 of these reactors being used in a pool, just like the ones already existing in nuclear power plants. 

The design itself isn't anything new: uranium fuel rods are used to heat water in an internal loop. That temperature is then transferred to an external steam loop, through a coil. And finally, within the plant, that steam would power a generating turbine, would cool down, and go back around to the reactors. 

What does stand out, though, is its small size. This is the first time an American modular design reaches this point, per Popular Mechanics. 

"As the first U.S. small modular reactor design to be issued an FSER, NuScale is pioneering the way for additional innovative advanced nuclear technologies under development," Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) new reactor director Marc Nichol said in a statement.

NuScale submitted its design for approval in 2016, and it was accepted in 2017. The reason it's been accepted more rapidly than usual comes mostly down to its size. As it is more self-contained and safer than larger, bespoke, nuclear reactors, it is safer. 

NuScale's next focus is to design a 60-megawatt version.

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