I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Sandia engineer says small nuclear reactors are the future — not the behemoths of the past
John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal has an interesting profile of a Sandia National Laboratories engineer who is ascending to the presidency of the American Nuclear Society.
Nuclear engineer Tom Sanders tells Fleck that over the past three decades energy companies have already forsworn giant power plants in favor of smaller plants run on natural gas. Moving to small nuclear reactors to fuel the country’s appetite for electricity just makes sense, as Fleck points out, the U.S. Navy has operated small nuclear reactors for decades. Smaller reactors would make more sense than the behemoths of the past.
Of course Sanders’ take on nuclear power puts him smack dab in the middle of a roiling, wide-ranging national debate on which alternative power sources are to be tapped in the coming decades to help the country wean itself off of fossil fuels.
And whether or not to use nuclear power is still a big question provoking passionate responses from proponents and opponents.
Sanders takes over the 11,000-member American Nuclear Society at a time when construction on new nuclear reactors has virtually been at a standstill. Construction on the last new reactor was started in 1977, Fleck tells us.
For those of you who do not subscribe to the Albuquerque Journal, here’s an excerpt from Fleck’s article:
The gray-bearded Sanders, 62, came of age during the go-go years of the U.S. nuclear power industry, when ambitious plans for big reactors across the United States were seen as central to our nation’s energy future.
He keeps a 1989 U.S. map on his office wall as a reminder, dots marking the sites of nuclear power plants proposed across the country at the time. Some 20 were canceled, Sanders said. Today, there are 104 operating nuclear reactors in the country — eight fewer than when Sanders’ map was made. The U.S. nuclear industry has not started construction of a new nuclear power reactor since 1977.
Experts cite many causes, from public opposition to industry uncertainty over costs. But Sanders, as he launches what will be a year of very public nuclear power advocacy as ANS president, offers a more prosaic explanation.
And here’s more from Fleck’s story:
Making the case for a U.S. small-reactor industry, Sanders sounds a little like a Silicon Valley tech evangelist as he talks about “the innovators dilemma.” The big guys, the Toshibas and Arevas of the world, are too invested in building big reactors to see the opportunity offered by the new technology Sanders is pushing.
That has left an opening, an opportunity for entrepreneurial innovation in the small reactor field.
Sanders thinks U.S. companies already serving our Navy, such as Babcock and Wilcox, are best positioned to take advantage of the opportunity, though there are also entrepreneurial startups like Santa Fe-based Hyperion hoping to exploit the niche.