The Little Reactors that Could

Article The Little Reactors that Could

Billed as safe and cheap, NuScale’s small reactors aim to revive the ailing nuclear industry and help save a warming planet.

Science,

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Is nuclear energy on its way out? The American company NuScale is developing small, modular reactors (SMRs). Multiple units can form a larger reactor that produces energy safely and economically. As solar and wind energy become more important, there is a pressing need for weather-independent energy generation. This article, by Science magazine staff writer Adrian Cho, conveys the excitement and hurdles in developing a new incarnation of a moribund technology. It pays scant attention, though, to the problem of how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

Summary

Nuclear reactors offer carbon-free energy, but nuclear waste and large accidents have depressed the market for nuclear power plants.

Nuclear accidents and waste issues have caused public distrust in nuclear power. This intensified after three Japanese nuclear reactors experienced a core meltdown in 2011.

In the United States, only one new nuclear reactor has come online in the past 20 years. Nuclear power’s share of global electricity production has declined from 17.6% in 1996 to 11% today.

Portland, Oregon company NuScale Power has designed a small, modular reactor, or SMR.

About the Author

Adrian Cho has been a staff writer at Science since 2005. He covers physics, cosmology and science policy. He has a PhD in experimental particle physics from Cornell University.


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