Office of Nuclear Energy

The BIG potential for nuclear micro-reactors

May 15, 2019

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The U.S. nuclear energy sector is going through one of the most innovative and transformative times in our history.

We are literally witnessing the advent of an entirely new class of advanced reactors that will soon come in a wide variety of sizes and applications.

More than 50 U.S. companies are working on designs that are smaller, scalable, versatile and even mobile—providing far greater access to nuclear power than ever before.

Micro-reactors will likely be the first advanced reactors that we see enter the U.S. market.

American developers are currently working on gas and heat pipe-cooled designs that could debut by the mid-2020s, which will be absolute game-changers for the industry.

Analysis: THE BIG potential of nuclear micro-reactors
U.S. Department of Energy's Ed McGinnis discusses the potential impact of nuclear micro-reactors.

SMALL AND VERSATILE

Micro-reactors are simply smaller, factory-built systems that can be easily transported by trucks, ships, airplanes or railcars.

Some micro-reactors can be set up in days, not years, to provide reliable heat and power to a host of places, ranging from residential and remote areas to military bases.

Micro-reactors may be small but they pack a real punch in terms of power.

A single unit typically generates 1 to 10 megawatts-electric.

To put this in perspective, a single megawatt of electricity can power approximately 1,000 homes. That means these systems could provide up to 10,0000 homes with clean power—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—for 10 years without stopping!  That is remarkable.

They can also be used for other applications such as community heating or to provide clean drinking water. 

To put it simply, micro-reactors can operate in places large reactors can’t. They provide choice to customers that need a constant and reliable source of clean power without the costs of a large construction project. 

a photo of a truck with a microreactor unit on the back.
Click above to download our micro-reactor infographic

POWERING REMOTE LOCATIONS

Micro-reactors are ultra-hardened, ultra-safe and highly efficient systems that can operate for 10 years or more without refueling.

Many companies are looking at the diesel generator market as one possible entry point.

Remote areas and even our own military bases are at risk to supply chain disruptions and high energy costs that could leave them without power if a shipment is missed.

A micro-reactor eliminates this risk by providing fuel security and emissions-free electricity around-the-clock for years to come without interruption.

PRODUCT CHOICE

The U.S. Department of Energy is partnering with a number of micro-reactor developers to help bring these innovative designs to market. The success of U.S. micro-reactors has the potential to literally change peoples’ lives and empower communities in ways never before realized. 

While the role of large reactors continues to be important to our nation and others around the world, we can’t just have a choice of large and larger nuclear reactors. The customer needs product choice and that is precisely what these smaller systems provide.

It’s a privilege to be working with so many innovative companies around the country and I’m looking forward to a future where we see the true promise of nuclear energy, expressed in particular, through these micro-reactor designs.