Science & Technology
6:00 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Congressmen Welcome DOE Announcement to Move Forward with Small Nuclear Reactors

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it will approve grant funding for the design and licensing of two small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) to bring nuclear energy to a condensed area.

Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) introduced legislation last year calling for a public-private partnership. Murphy explained that the approval from the DOE is for competitive grants, and the companies must have a 50 percent cost-sharing through private investment.

He adds that the Pittsburgh region is a good area for this competition referring to Westinghouse which has already been making nuclear reactors. The projects for their AP-1000 reactor have sustained about 5,000 jobs.

Murphy adds that SMR production is not a new concept because they are used in submarines and aircraft without any problems.

"Now the idea is to have reactors that could actually be used to power communities, industrial parks and other areas with a much smaller footprint," Murphy said.

Murphy says that the SMRs are less costly and more portable. The SMR would be made at a factory and then transported to a site for operation, creating jobs at both locations.

Additionally, the SMRs do not have to be located near large bodies of water for cooling purposes. Murphy says the reactors are safe, and incidents like the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster are unlikely with the SMRs.

"Because they are much smaller and because the design changes in these power plants now, they have so many automatic design and safety and shut off mechanisms," Murphy said. "Even in the case where there would be no human involvement, they can be shut down safely."