4,000 billion kWh per year.
Convert energy per time to just power, and that’s 450,000 MW.
Think about that. The United States uses 4,000 billion kWh annually. We need almost half a million megawatts of electricity generation to produce all of it.
How many natural gas wells do we drill annually for all that energy? How many wetlands have we flooded with dams? How many habitats will we destroy with solar panels?
Alternatively – if we have half a million micro nuclear reactors installed all over the country – we’d use a total of 5.25 square miles.
To power the entire country.
|Company||Design||Size (MW)||Operation w/out Refeuling|
|Westinghouse||eVinci||200 kWe – 5 MWe||>3 years|
|Oklo||Aurora||1.5 MWe||20 years|
|Holos||HolosGen||3 – 100 MWe||3 – 20 years|
|Xe-Mobile||X-energy||1 MWe||3 years|
|NuScale||VOYGR||10 – 50 MWe & 1 – 10 MWe||>10 years|
|LeadCold||SEALER||3 MWe||30 years|
|Urenco||U-Battery||4 MWe||5 years|
|Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp||MMR||5 MWe||20 years|
|Radiant Nuclear||Kaleidos||1.2 MWe||Unknown|
|BWXT||BANR||1 – 5 MWe||5 years|
Many of these are very exciting, and they’re all rapidly making progress to bring their designs into reality. Most of them stand a chance have a first of a kind model built by 2030. Importantly, this list isn’t all encompassing. Many more companies exist and are in the development phase to bring new reactors to market.
A key advantage of microreactors over gigawatt scale nuclear power plants is an opportunity to exploit what’s known as the manufacturing learning curve. The implicit idea is as you build or manufacture something over and over again, an inherent learning takes place, and you’re able to build it more cheaply the following time. This is true for all machines and processes throughout every industry.
Perhaps one of the best early papers describing the affects of this process was published in 1936 by T.P. Wright in the Journal of Aeronautical Sciences. In the article, Wright outlines the fundamentals around how manufacturing costs decrease when the number of units generated increases due to a myriad of factors including reductions in labor costs, tooling, design, supply chain, and overhead on a per unit basis.
How much saving is actually possible? Wright estimates that by just building 25 units, each unit will be 43% the cost of the first unit. After 10,000 units, the unit cost will be below 10% of the original.
While the nuclear industry has been stating these realities for over a decade, few (if any) vendor or development companies have really put them into practice. Meanwhile, the other energy generation and fuel technologies have been building and bringing their costs down significantly. Solar panels and windmills are mass manufactured, multiple oil wells are drilled on the same pad, production is commingled into central facilities, and gas turbines are manufactured from standard designs through well understood processes.
Consider the eventual effect on the micro reactor industry if hundreds or thousands can be manufactured repeatedly. The costs will inevitably come down. Indeed, even though he was specifically referring to the bulk manufacturing of airplanes, Wright’s comments in the last section of his article draw immediate parallels to the burgeoning micro reactor industry.
Simplicity and cheapness of design will make possible gradual reductions in prices which will make possible the sale of somewhat greater quantities with cheaper prices brought about by virtue of such quantity increase. The desirable cycle of events can be given greatest impetus by improving the product which means improvement in performance, efficiency, and safety, so as to make it possible to offer the public something really worth while.
Wright, T.P. (1936). “Factors Affecting the Cost of Airplanes”. Journal of Aeronautical Sciences. 3(4): 122-128.
- Review of Microreactors – great overview paper to get someone started, though the authors are a bit closed minded on the economics.
- Army Review on mobile, modular reactors
- Cost Competitiveness of Micro-Reactors
- Roadmap for the Deployment of Micro-Reactors for U.S. Department of Defense Domestic Installations
- Kelly Alexander Jordan and Claudio Filiponne wrote this incredible paper about the Holos design