23 Feb 2023

A Nuclear Phoenix Arises from Clinch River Ashes


“Nuclear energy is a baseload — meaning its power that you can run anytime you want, day or night — and its carbon free.” Nathan Mhyrvold, co-founder Intellectual Ventures and climate change policy skeptic

When all else fails, the U.S. turns to the right thing.

For decades the NRC — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (otherwise known as the Nuclear Rejection Commission) — vetoed all permit applications for new nuclear electricity generating facilities. Zero, NIMBY (not in my back yard), Banana (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), NOPE (not on planet Earth). Well, land-o-goshen and my stars! A permit was approved!

An Early Site permit issued by the NRC went largely unreported when it was issued in June 2019. A micro-reactor is planned for the original Clinch River Rapid Breeder Reactor site in Tennessee. Following the permit grant several universities, with assistance from the Nuclear Energy Institute (an industry advocacy group), are advancing Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology.

A bit of history…in the early years of the Reagan presidency the Clinch River Experimental Breeder Reactor, a project of the Tennessee Valley Authority, became the crowing achievement of the anti-nuke crowd. They killed it. Forty yeas have come and gone and the NRC has rejected any and all applications until just recently.

The breeder reactor was capable pf producing more nuclear fuel than it consumed, though the liquid metal coolants used in its operation were expensive and logistically challenging. The NRC’s predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission publicly promoted the project despite the expense differential of plutonium versus fresh uranium. Plutonium is many times more expensive. Then-President Nixon needed a win and the AEC provided a projection of 1,000 such reactors on line by 2000. Congress was on board as well with electric utilities kicking in more than half the $400 million cost.

A political dogfight ensued. Republicans sided with environmentalists labeling the project too expensive and a safety hazard due to potentially explosive qualities of the liquid sodium cooling agent. In the end the Senate voted decisively to deny funding. The Oak Ridge site was reclaimed and remained idle until 2022 when work on the permitted site began in earnest.

The Policy Smith has advocated repeatedly on this platform for small, localized nuclear generation. We’ve cited the long history of safe operation of nuclear submarines circling the globe 24/7/365 with scant incidents. Waste is not an issue, they’re quiet — virtually silent — efficient and dependable.

The Green movement/religion/zealotry opposes this technology for a number of reasons. There is no money in it for them as there will be no government grants to spread around to favored constituents. Quiet unobtrusive nuclear energy will promote development in even the nether regions of the globe which in the minds of the soft path crowd will lead to more population, more innovation and more consumption…all contrary to the Kumbaya mantra of the left, the woke, the antis.

What would multiple SMRs accomplish? Essentially everything Greens say they are for, and essentially everything plentiful/cheap supply advocates desire as well. How can this be? Here is a partial list of what a wide dispersion of SMRs would accomplish.

~ Dramatically reduce emissions from conventional power plants. Eventually from land transportation as well.

~ Reduce conventional fuel use in electricity generation.

~ Eliminate the need/expense/land use for new large scale transmission lines.

~ Eliminate the need for mining for additional rare earth minerals supplies and the related energy and land use costs. Plus eliminate the purchase of said minerals from political opponents.

~ Dramatically reduce the land required to deliver energy — wind and solar farms in particular

~ Reduce the need for backup energy sources — rain or shine, nuclear delivers.

~ Resume being an energy exporter and energy self-reliant once again.

~ Neutralize the value of hydrocarbon energy for Russia, the Middle East and Venezuela.

~ Defang the climate change mad(enter favored/desired pronoun here) moralizers.

~ Destroy the platforms for the bloviators — Gore, Kerry, Blood, the Science Guy, Markey, Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and the rest of the fear-mongers.

~ Deliver clean affordable electricity to those of means and those with few means alike. No favorites!

The Policy Smith is confident every reader of this essay can add substantially to this list.

That list notwithstanding, the nuclear industry faces daunting obstacles. Alarmists have successfully poisoned the public mindset with spectres of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. What they conveniently ignore is that Three Mile Island (see below) was no Chernobyl. EVERYTHING WORKED!!! No loss of life, no public disaster, the reactor shut down.

There’s no value in that for the virtue-signaling piety crowd. Never mind that their water-carriers in the Biden Administration are working into the wee hours to keep present day nuclear plants operational. They’ve been uneconomic for some time, but they haven’t received the subsidies and tax favoritism of wind and solar. Never mind the carbon intensity of those industries to mine, fabricate and install such systems…not to mention tax subsidies and loan guarantees. Can you say Solyndra…to the tune of $555 million down the porcelain convenience?

Suffocating regulations only added to the industry’s spotty record of finishing projects on time and on budget. There were so few projects that benefits of replication and repetition never accrued. That should change with SMRs that are modular and have the imprimatur of top tier education institutions, including University of Illinois, Purdue University and Penn State, among others. Nuclear reactors have a long history of utility at like institutions for research. Now a micro-reactor with a capacity of 10Mw can function on less than one acre of land. A plant that size would power on average +/-7,500 homes.

The obstacles must be acknowledged, confronted and overcome. Innovation is the lifeblood of U.S. security and prosperity. Oil threats from Middle East mullahs, begging Venezuelan tinhorns, Russian pipeline misadventures and embargo threats land in the dustbin of history with the advent of zero emissions SMRs. And it puts the U.S. at the forefront of reducing CO2 emissions.

Want to see a micro-reactor? Head down to Brookshire, Texas. Washington, D.D.’s Last Energy built a model housed in cube structure covered in reflective metal (see below). Not exactly Three Mile Island!

2 Responses to A Nuclear Phoenix Arises from Clinch River Ashes
  1. Comment *As usual, I learn from you. Never had heard of the SMR option………it is an idea which reassures………I wonder what others think.

    • I’ll make the request on the next go-around. Brainlock prevented the ask this time. It now apears that these projects are springing up in the concept stage in various locales across the nation. I hope the NRC is past its usual dawdling and surpass its usual glacial pace.


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