The Case for a Small Modular Reactor Revolution in Nuclear Energy
Dr. Sola Talabi, an adjunct assistant professor of nuclear engineering, believes nuclear power “has the ability to solve” the world’s two biggest problems: global energy poverty and global warming.

He tells the Daily Beast, “Nuclear can uniquely address those issues.”

While novel in the civilian energy sector, SMRs have powered naval warships and submarines for almost 70 years. U.S. naval nuclear reactors have logged more than 5,400 reactor years, and steamed more than 130 million miles without a single radiological incident or radiation-related fatality. This sterling safety record allows the U.S. Navy to operate its reactors largely without controversy even in Japan, a country that has a strong anti-nuclear movement birthed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and amplified by Fukushima…

[T]he plant can remove heat generated by its fuel even if electrical power is lost. Next-generation SMRs are also designed such that they don’t require a pressurizing system like the one that failed at Three Mile Island. Even in the extraordinarily improbable event of a core meltdown, Talabi said that SMRs are still remarkably safe. Unlike their large-scale predecessors, the diminutive size of SMRs eliminates the need for active safety systems backed by human operators. If radionuclide particles — an unstable element that’s harmful to humans — are released from the core, gravity and other natural phenomena such as thermal and steam concentration will force them to settle safely within the confines of the plant’s containment vessel.

In the yet more unlikely case that radionuclide particles breach the containment vessel, Talabi’s research indicates they will settle over a much smaller area than if they were released from a large-scale reactor, posing far less of a health and environmental hazard and simplifying cleanup… [E]conomists don’t realize that many of the systems required by large-scale reactors, such as the ones that maintain pressure and coolant flow in the plant’s core, won’t be miniaturized in the smaller plants. They’ll be eliminated. SMRs should also be less expensive because they can be factory-fabricated, and their smaller parts will be easier for more manufacturers to produce….

Despite his optimism for SMRs’ potential, Talabi acknowledges that they have some drawbacks. Widespread use may slash carbon emissions, but will necessitate increased uranium mining. They also create a security risk, as nuclear fuel will need to be transported between thousands of locations, and reactor sites may be targeted by warring states and terrorists. Government statutes also fail to account for differences between SMRs and large-scale reactors, inhibiting their construction….

That said, Talabi believes that SMRs’ potential in solving climate change and global energy poverty far outweighs their risks, and makes overcoming their obstacles well worth it…. “It’s not a technology challenge,” Talabi said. With public and government support, SMRs could soon be powering the globe with carbon-free electricity. To Talabi, it’s just a matter of awareness and understanding.
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