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This subject's pages:          NuScale: The Bridge Reactor    
Footnotes & Links

    Advanced Nuclear:
NuScale, A "Technology Bridge" Nuclear Reactor

Unfortunately, this reactor is tied to the past in much the same way as Newcomen's atmospheric pressure steam engine.
It's reactor operating temperature of 550F means it has no chance of replacing the heat of fossil fuels beyond boiling water to power low-efficiency steam turbines. Molten salt (1,300F salt) and pebble bed (1,800F helium) reactors can equal or exceed the performance of coal (1,100F steam).

NuScale does a much better job describing their advanced reactor than this web site can. Check out their web site:  http://www.nuscalepower.com/

Behind today's massive world-standard water cooled solid uranium pellet fueled nuclear reactor is a story that is hauntingly similar to the story of the world's first steam engine, the 1712 Newcomen steam engine.

While history doesn't repeat itself exactly, it rhymes surprisingly often.

Steam engine explosions that leveled towns and killed thousands, inefficient to the point that only coal mine operators could afford the massive amounts of coal it consumed, very limited in the kinds of applications it could power, the first steam engine was replaced less than seventy years later - in 1780 - by the same reciprocating steam engine we are still building today - the Watt steam engine.

Newcomen's steam engine was a vacuum engine - notice the quick spurt of cooling water.

To be clear, England's 1712 Newcomen vacuum steam engine was a big step forward, it replaced horses that were being quickly worked to death lifting large amounts of water from deep coal mines.  But, as you can see, it couldn't make shafts turn like the waterwheels and windmills that were being used to power England's spinning mills at the time. 

The more efficient 1780 Watt steam pressure engine used far less coal to make the same power and, using Leonardo da Vinci's (1452-1519) crank invention, could replace waterwheels along and, a few years later, power railroad locomotive wheels and ship's paddle wheels.

The Watt steam engine eventually became a technological bridge for the development of steam turbines in 1884, (oil powered ships), and then later, gas turbines about 1930, (jet engines).

 

 

In your author's opinion, the NuScale nuclear reactor is a technological bridge between solid fuel, water cooled nuclear reactors and liquid fuel,  molten salt cooled reactors - a safer integration of solid fuel nuclear energy and water cooling - with the time interval between the two nuclear technologies being almost the same as the time interval between the first two steam engine technologies. 

It takes time to come up with better versions of the same thing.

One might make a similar time interval observation about tubes and transistors with the transistor being a bridge technology leading to today's integrated circuit microchip.

NuScale has developed the concept of a safer, simpler, more economical conventional water cooled nuclear reactor to a level not attained by any current or earlier conventional reactor.  It's unlikely significant further improvement of this type of reactor will be made.

Unfortunately, like all conventional reactors, it's nuclear waste will contain extractable plutonium-239 that can be used to build nuclear weapons. 

What NuScale gave up was high energy density.  A NuScale reactor produces only 50 megaWatts (mW) as compared to the 1,800 mW produced by the latest and greatest conventional reactors. So, like a large airplane, multiple NuScale reactors at a single site are needed to power a large city while small size enables the electrical agility necessary to fill in for irregular electricity surges caused by wind and solar sources.

The first example of a NuScale reactor power station is being constructed on Idaho National Laboratories (INL) property.  It will go into service testing using the U.S. Northwest electrical grid alongside wind, solar, and conventional electricity power plants as it's energy load.

The world continues to build modern examples of the nearly 250 year old Watt steam engine. Your author is confident descendents of the new classic NuScale reactor design will continue to be built 250 years from now.

For example, Enhanced accident tolerant fuels are revolutionary concepts of the next generation to be deployed within the next decade, said Elmar Schweitzer, AREVAs senior expert on Materials and Thermal-Mechanics at a IEA COP23 side event in November, 2017.

 

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Footnotes & Links

Links checked

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