- Frequently Asked Questions | Microreactors
What is a microreactor?
Most of these small reactors are designed to be portable – many could be hauled by a semi tractor-trailer.
How does a microreactor compare in size to commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S.? What about a small modular reactor (SMR)?
Microreactors are 100 to 1,000 times smaller than conventional nuclear reactors. Small modular reactors (SMRS) range from 50 to 300 megawatts.
Are microreactors new?
It supplied 10 megawatts of electricity from 1968-1975, located on a barge in Gatun Lake. The military decommissioned most of its microreactors by the early 1970s because oil was cheap, weakening demand for remote power sources.
Several organizations and companies are developing new designs equipped with advanced technologies such as sensors, electronics, safety systems and materials that did not exist 40 years ago. These advancements are expected to make the next generation of microreactors easier and less expensive to operate. This, in turn, could open new markets for these small, powerful, portable systems.
Why the renewed interest in microreactors?
The U.S. Department of Defense is pursuing the concept as its military operations become more energy intensive and require portable, dense power sources. Remote, rural communities in the U.S., many of which fly or truck in diesel to run generators, are considering microreactors since they could generate power on site.
In addition, these new systems are expected to operate years without refueling – much like the nuclear reactors used to power the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarines.
Are there any microreactors operating in the U.S.?
What are the benefits of a microreactor?
This is important for communities that rely on diesel to power their homes and businesses, for mining or exploration companies in remote areas, or even to restore power in areas hit by hurricanes or other natural disasters.
The new generation of microreactors under development is designed to be simple to use, easy to transport and set up, and go years without having to be refueled.
What is INL’s role?
As part of its research mission, INL is also helping to develop new fuels for microreactor designs, many of which require higher concentrations of uranium-235 than the fuel used in the current fleet of commercial reactors.
What is the time frame for these modern microreactor systems?
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requests a pilot program to construct a microreactor for energy resilience by 2027. Also, the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is seeking proposals for a mobile microreactor demonstration.
Are microreactors cost-effective?
A recent report by the Nuclear Energy Institute: “Cost Competitiveness of Micro-Reactors for Remote Markets,” estimates the cost to generate electricity from the first microreactor will be between $0.14/kWh and $0.41/kWh. In some remote Alaskan areas that are dependent upon diesel generators, electricity prices are more than $1/kWh.
Future costs are estimated to decrease to between $0.09/kWh and $0.33/kWh. Costs are expected to decrease after demonstration, licensing and initial deployment and will depend on the location and type of owner, whether private or public.
Who would oversee and license microreactors?
The U.S. Department of Energy supports a new approach to licensing through the Licensing Modernization Project, a DOE cost-shared, industry-led effort to establish a technology-inclusive, risk-informed and performance-based approach for advanced reactor licensing.