The case for an American ARC program
The United States isn’t expected to lighten its stance on proliferation, but it may be slowly modernizing its nuclear policy. The Department of Energy is sponsoring a $450 million program encouraging the design and implementation of small modular nuclear reactors that “have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and achieve commercial operation around 2025.” In late 2012, Babcock & Wilcox Co (NYSE:BWC) received the first award in the program, estimated at $227 million, for its proposed 180 MW mPower reactor. The company has already agreed to send two units to the Tennessee Valley Authority by 2021.
GE Hitachi’s PRISM reactor weighs in at 311 MW — just above the program’s ceiling of 300 MW — and still requires licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Will it be the next reactor to gain funding? The industry may not be ready to invest in a commercially unproven technology such as a sodium-cooled reactor. Nonetheless, the company has an interesting selling point for utilities reaching saturation for UNFs storage:
Today, in the U.S. there are approximately 100 nuclear power reactors in operation. Assuming that they each produce 20 tons of UNF a year for 60 years of operation, the current fleet will produce 120,000 tons of UNF. Twenty-six ARCs are capable of consuming the entire 120,000 tons of UNF. Additionally, they are capable of producing 50,000 MWe and avoiding the emission of 400,000,000 tons of CO2 every year.
Foolish bottom line
What would a fleet of 26 ARCs mean for the United States? Here are a few statistics to get Uncle Sam’s pulse going:
Increase national nuclear capacity by 50%.
Supply 10% of the nation’s electricity.
Increase world nuclear capacity by 13.5%.
Represent a greater nuclear capacity than every country other than France (63,000 MW).
Because of its unique ability to run on transuranics, costs to build the first full-scale ARC — consisting of a fully equipped recycling facility and one PRISM reactor — could be pulled from currently existing waste-management funds. You may not be aware of it, but one-tenth of one penny per kWh of electricity generated by nuclear power plants is set aside for future UNFs disposal. Today, the country’s fund sits at $25.8 billion.
That could represent a serious down payment on an American ARC armada. In the end, it’s up to government officials to institute a program and bring GE Hitachi’s innovation to the market. (Sorry, free market supporters — the government controls all UNF disposal programs.) Do you think the United States — or the world — needs this technology? Let me know in the comments section below.
The article General Electric’s Answer for Radioactive Zombies originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by Maxx Chatsko.
Fool contributor Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out his personal portfolio or his CAPS page, or follow him on Twitter, @BlacknGoldFool, to keep up with his writing on energy, bioprocessing, and emerging technologies.The Motley Fool recommends Exelon and owns shares of General Electric.
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