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March 23, 2011

Poland continues construction of large reactors and small modular reactors may have increased appeal

1. Poland rejects a German request to stop nuclear plant construction in Poland

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk Wednesday rejected a German call on Poland to cancel the planned construction of nuclear power plants, saying the Polish public supports the project.

“We can’t succumb to hysteria about it,” Mr. Tusk said in remarks from northwestern Poland, near the border with Germany. “The reason for radiological risks in Japan isn’t an accident at the nuclear plant, but an earthquake and tsunami.



The minister-president of the German federal state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, told Germany daily Tagesspiegel earlier in March he hoped Poland will abandon the plan after the nuclear crisis in Japan. Mr. Tusk Wednesday called Platzeck’s remarks inappropriate.

Poland plans to build two nuclear power plants, each with a 3,000 megawatt capacity, as part of a strategy to diversity the country’s energy sources away from coal and an over-reliance on natural gas from Russia.

“Calls from a friendly political leader from the other side of the border, Mr. Platzeck, for Poland to stop the project appeared somewhat inappropriate to me. A country that has about 16 nuclear power plants shouldn’t be too concerned with our plans to build the most modern plants available on the market,” the Polish prime minister said.

2. Small modular reactor development companies still believe in a bright future for their technology.

As improbable as it may sound amid the devastation in northeastern Japan, the nuclear accident may increase the appeal of innovative, small-scale reactors, says Chris Gadomski, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst.

Hyperion Power Generation Inc. in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is working on 25-megawatt, refrigerator-sized designs for $50 million each that could power remote locations or be used in hospitals and factories. By 2020, Russian nuclear company Rosatom Corp. expects to sell seven barges equipped with twin 35-megawatt reactors for the Arctic and Africa. In Argentina, the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is clearing ground in the central grasslands for a 25-megawatt prototype planned for 2014.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates is backing a more powerful, 500-megawatt reactor designed by TerraPower LLC in Bellevue, Washington. Its traveling-wave technology uses uranium-238 to fuel a reaction in what functions like a 13-foot- tall candle.

NuScale is designing and testing a 60-foot-high (18-meter-high) reactor encased in a thermos-like metal sheath. It would cost about $200 million and could be used to light and heat villages, desalinate ocean water or be strung together side by side to form a midsize power plant -- virtually free of carbon emissions. With some investors on board, Reyes plans to ask the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license in late 2012.

NuScale’s reactor core is housed inside a vessel that’s 10 times stronger than the one in Japan, he says, and that’s placed in a pool of water and buried underground.

More important, his design doesn’t require pumps or external power to cool the reactor. Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors, of which Toshiba Corp. (6502) was among the builders, overheated when power sources failed and pumps couldn’t deliver cooling water.

By 2025, the world could add 36 small reactors, each with 400 megawatts of capacity or less, according to the IAEA.

The U.S. nuclear industry is already growing more slowly than those of China, Russia and India. Nuclear generating capacity may jump by 77 percent in the Far East, including China, by 2020 compared with 12 percent in North America, the IAEA says. Capacity in Western Europe may drop 24 percent in that period

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