U.S. Grants Will Promote Small-Scale, Modular Nuclear Reactors

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week announced a new series of cost-sharing grants to promote the development of small-scale, factory-made nuclear reactors, an emerging energy source that Obama administration officials say could help replace the coal-fired plants expected to cease operations in the coming decades.

The administration, which has allocated $452 million for the program, hopes to spur the production and licensing of as many as 50 so-called modular reactors annually by 2040, said Rebecca Smith-Kevern, director of light water reactor technology at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

DOE officials say these modular reactors, which would be about one-third the size of typical nuclear power plants, also include scalable designs that will provide safety and economic benefits. “We have a vision of having a whole fleet of [modular reactors]produced in factories,” Smith-Kavern said at a conference. “We envision the U.S. government to be the first users.” Citing a 2011 paper, she said plants could cost $3 billion to $5 billion apiece.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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