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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Energy

Nuclear reactors going micro

Feb 09, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Nuclear power is going micro. Supporters of the tiny technology said its impacts could be monumental and usher in a new era of nuclear power.

Washington D.C.-based Last Energy is one company leading micro reactor revolution. The company’s tiny reactor sits on about an acre of land, produces enough energy to power a small campus, hospital or military complex, and it can be delivered on the back of a semi-truck.

Experts in the field said micro nuclear reactors have the potential to be “transformative” in energy production, because they can be built in factories and hooked up on site in a plug-and-play fashion.

Micro nuclear reactors do carry some of the same challenges as their large-scale counterparts, like how to dispose of the nuclear waste created. Micro nuclear reactors will, by their nature, require more uranium to be mined and enriched as well.

“Those who are hoping that microreactors are going to be the silver bullet for solving the climate change crisis are simply betting on the wrong horse,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“I do feel that microreactors can be a game-changer and revolutionize the way we think about energy,” said Jean Paul Allain, the head of Penn State’s nuclear engineering department.

Allain and other supporters of the new technology said whatever concerns there may be around microreactors are manageable. They’ve said the added benefits of clean-burning, nuclear energy virtually on demand far outweigh the risks.

Micro reactors are also a fraction of the price of traditional reactors, which cost billions. Last Energy’s microreactor costs under $100 million including delivery and installation.

Several American universities are working to develop micro reactors. Penn State wants to prove the technology so industries like steel and cement manufacturers can use it. The U.S. military also has a plan in the works called Project Pele to develop micro nuclear reactors.

Nuclear energy will no doubt be a major component as the world’s more advanced countries look to go carbon neutral. Last Energy’s founder Bret Kugelmass said the urgency of the climate crisis means zero-carbon nuclear energy must be scaled up soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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NUCLEAR POWER IS GOING MICRO. THIS TINY REACTOR FROM LAST ENERGY SITS ON ABOUT AN ACRE OF LAND, PRODUCES ENOUGH ENERGY TO POWER A SMALL CAMPUS, HOSPITAL OR MILITARY COMPLEX, AND IT CAN BE DELIVERED ON THE BACK OF A SEMI-TRUCK.

EXPERTS IN THE FIELD CALL MICRO NUCLEAR REACTORS TRANSFORMATIVE, BECAUSE THEY CAN BE BUILT IN FACTORIES AND HOOKED UP ON SITE IN A PLUG AND PLAY FASHION.

MICRO NUCLEAR REACTORS DO CARRY SOME OF THE SAME CHALLENGES AS THEIR LARGE-SCALE COUNTERPARTS, LIKE HOW TO DISPOSE OF THE NUCLEAR WASTE CREATED. MICRO NUCLEAR REACTORS WILL, BY THEIR NATURE, REQUIRE MORE URANIUM TO BE MINED AND ENRICHED AS WELL.

BUT SUPPORTERS OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGY SAY THOSE ISSUES ARE MANAGEABLE, AND THE BENEFITS OF CLEAN BURNING NUCLEAR ENERGY VIRTUALLY ON-DEMAND FAR OUTWEIGH THE RISKS.

MICRO REACTORS ARE ALSO A FRACTION OF THE PRICE. A TRADITIONAL REACTOR COSTS BILLIONS. LAST ENERGY’S MICROREACTOR COSTS UNDER $100 MILLION, AND THAT INCLUDES DELIVERY AND SET-UP.

SEVERAL AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES ARE WORKING TO DEVELOP MICRO REACTORS. PENN STATE WANTS TO PROVE THE TECHNOLOGY SO INDUSTRIES LIKE STEEL AND CEMENT MANUFACTURERS CAN USE IT. THE U.S. MILITARY ALSO HAS A PLAN IN THE WORKS CALLED PROJECT PELE TO DEVELOP MICRO NUCLEAR REACTORS.

NUCLEAR ENERGY WILL NO DOUBT BE A MAJOR COMPONENT AS THE WORLD’S MORE ADVANCED COUNTRIES LOOK TO GO CARBON NEUTRAL. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THAT EFFORT, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT OUR REPORTING ON STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM FOR THE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACTS.