Future Nuclear Reactors simplify to improve Reliability

WSJ has an article about future nuclear reactors.

The New Nukes

The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way, and supporters say they will be safer, cheaper and more efficient than current plants. Here's a look at what's coming -- and when.


If there ever were a time that seemed ripe for nuclear energy, it's now.

For the first time in decades, popular opinion is on the industry's side. A majority of Americans thinks nuclear power, which emits virtually no carbon dioxide, is a safe and effective way to battle climate change, according to recent polls. At the same time, legislators are showing renewed interest in nuclear as they hunt for ways to slash greenhouse-gas emissions.


There are interesting points made that forward thinkers like Mike Manos have said as a path for future data centers.

"A common theme of future reactors is to make them simpler so there are fewer systems to monitor and fewer systems that could fail," says Revis James, director of the Energy Technology Assessment Center at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent power-industry research organization.

And, a specific example is discussed of simplification.

The current generation of nuclear plants requires a complex maze of redundant motors, pumps, valves and control systems to deal with emergency conditions. Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don't need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition—reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.

For example, the Westinghouse AP1000 boasts half as many safety-related valves, one-third fewer pumps and only one-fifth as much safety-related piping as earlier plants from Westinghouse, majority owned by Toshiba Corp. In an emergency, the reactor, which has been selected for use at Southern Co.'s Vogtle site in Georgia and at six other U.S. locations, is designed to shut down automatically and stay within a safe temperature range.

The reactor's passive designs take advantage of laws of nature, such as the pull of gravity. So, for example, emergency coolant is kept at a higher elevation than the reactor pressure vessel. If sensors detect a dangerously low level of coolant in the reactor core, valves open and coolant floods the reactor core. In older reactors, emergency flooding comes from a network of pumps—which require redundant systems and backup sources of power—and may also require operator action.

Gallup has a public opinion poll.