Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Advanced Nuclear Industry to Regulators: Give Us a Chance

Former NRC chairman Allison Macfarlane: Nuclear power is “a different beast.” (Photo Credit: Dominick Reuter) Click to Enlarge.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has licensed one new nuclear plant in the last 35 years.  Yet there are now nearly 50 companies in the U.S. and Canada researching and developing advanced nuclear power technologies, according to Third Way, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization focused on energy, climate change, and national security.  These companies are backed by more than $1.3 billion in private capital from individual investors like Bill Gates and from major venture capital funds (see Experiments Start on a Meltdown-Proof Nuclear Reactor and Advanced Reactor Gets Closer to Reality).

Several of those companies were on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week for the Solve conference, participating in a workshop called “Building a Scalable, Safe New Nuclear Reactor Design.”  Among the companies represented were Transatomic Power, TerraPower, Moltex Energy, Tri-Alpha Energy, and Terrestrial Energy.

Many of these new entrants view the NRC’s prolonged and expensive licensing process as a barrier to innovation.  It can take a decade or more, and hundreds of millions of dollars, just to get a license for a prototype reactor from the NRC.
The net effect of the regulatory sclerosis in the U.S. is to force companies offshore. TerraPower, the startup funded in part by Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates that is focused on a novel machine known as a traveling wave reactor, signed an agreement in September with the China National Nuclear Corp. to build a prototype unit in China.  Other U.S.-based startups have indicated their intention to find more nuclear-friendly countries in which to prove their technology.  Even the DOE, via Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is collaborating with a Chinese partner:  Oak Ridge is working with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics to build a prototype molten salt reactor.

“Our preferred option is to deploy this technology in time to make a difference to climate change,” says TerraPower’s chief financial officer, Marcia Burkey.  “China is a market for us because it’s a very active market for nuclear power at this time.”

Read  more at Advanced Nuclear Industry to Regulators: Give Us a Chance

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