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March 19, 2011

Three senators offer bill to build small reactors

From Idaho Samizdat - Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation to direct the Department of Energy to develop innovative, low-cost nuclear reactors. The new bill is also co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-Louisiana).

The Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S. 512) proposes a program to design and certify small modular reactors (< 300 megawatts) which can be built and operated in combination with similar reactors at a single site. This is the so-called "six pack" option.

Under the Bingaman-Murkowski-Udall bill, the Federal effort would be cost-shared with the private sector and selected under a competitive merit review process that emphasizes efficiency, cost, safety and proliferation resistance.

The Nuclear Power 2021 Act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to work in a public-private partnership to:

* Develop a standard design for two modular reactors, one of which will not be more than 50 MW;
* Obtain a design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for each design by 2018; and
* Obtain a combined operating license from the Commission by 2021.

Only two of the pending designs are that small. There are substantial design differences between them.

One is NuScale Power's LWR design at 45 MW. The conventional LWR design uses uranium fuel enriched to about 5% U235.

The other is Hyperion Power’s 25 MW fast reactor is being developed in New Mexico. The Hyperion reactor is reported to be specifying a uranium oxide fuel enriched to up to 19% U235. It is reported to be considering using a lead-bismuth metal-cooled system.

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