By 2030 global energy demand is predicted to be 40% higher thanit is today, and almost three-quarters of that demand will come from developing countries, the International Energy Agency reports. While the world scrambles to draw up plans for mega-dams and massive wind farms to meet this demand, an international team has been designing nuclear reactors that are cost-effective and a better fit for developing nations than traditional utilityscale plants. Widely known as grid-appropriate reactors, they are smaller in size than the giants installed in developed countries.

Compared to current light-water reactors that can generate up to 1,600 MW, grid-appropriate reactors are designed to put out between 250 MW and 500 MW—a substantial load for nations with smaller power grids and less-developed technical infrastructures. Gridappropriate reactors can also be built in just over half the time required to construct a large nuclear power plant. With a

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An international coalition of companies and research institutions is developing a Generation IV small-scale lightwater reactor, the IRIS, and anticipate its deployment by 2015. The reactor’s components are similar to those of an integrated primary system.

Full view of  Mini-reactor.jpg

An international coalition of companies and research institutions is developing a Generation IV small-scale lightwater reactor, the IRIS, and anticipate its deployment by 2015. The reactor’s components are similar to those of an integrated primary system.

gered build strategy, two or more reactors can be set up in a series, which reduces up-front capital costs and can potentially result in quicker return on investment.

In developed nations, the effort to commercialize grid-appropriate reactors could lead to specialized uses for nuclear reactors such as an independent power source for military bases, biofuel production, coal-to-liquid conversion, and economical oil shale and tar sand recovery. For example, Russia is constructing a floating nuclear power plant slated for launch by 2010 capable of producing enough electricity to power a city of 200,000 and desalinate 60 million gallons a day in remote arctic regions. Utilities in many parts of the U.S. may also look to smaller reactors to supplement their power generation needs as demand for energy rises.

For all these reasons, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) is convinced that grid-appropriate reactors are the keystone in the global expansion of nuclear energy—and it recently launched a campaign to make these reactors commercially available.In 2008, members of the grid-appropriate reactor team will develop a solicitation for a public-private partnership to select a U.S.-based light-water reactor design for safety and licensing support beginning in fiscal year 2009. The campaign aims to speed the development, demonstration, and deployment of grid-appropriate reactors and have the first reactor ready for construction as early as 2015.

The partnership cites a specific Generation IV reactor: the International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS),which is being developed through an international partnership for deployment by 2015 (see POWER, April 2008, “Developing the next generation of reactors”). The IRIS design basically consists of an integrated primary system that incorporates all main primary circuit components within a single vessel. These include the core with control rods and their drive mechanisms, eight helical coil steam generators with eight associated fully immersed axial flow pumps, and a pressurizer.

According to the project’s web site, the partnership is currently wrapping up necessary testing for Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design certification. Final design approval is expected by 2012. Comprising 20 organizations from 10 countries, the IRIS partnership includes nuclear powerhouses like Westinghouse and UK-based BNFL; laboratories from the U.S., Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and Lithuania; and several universities. Westinghouse is tasked with coordinating the effort, leading the core design, conducting safety analyses, and leading the reactor through licensing and commercialization.

Members of the grid-appropriate reactor team expect that over the next five years, the U.S. Department of Energy will cost-share about 20% of the estimated $500,000 effort to achieve design certification by the NRC.

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