Why a Modular Reactor Plant Can Work Now

AROUND 1980, a consortium of utilities tried to build a nuclear reactor in the United States similar to the design developed by Lawrence Lidsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The results were not positive. But Dr. Lidsky and his team point to three technological-industrial developments in the United States that they say will make a modular reactor plant a success, enabling it to produce power that is economically competitive with fossil fuels.

These developments are as follows:

Smaller, high-speed, gas-driven turbines, developed and proved in the aerospace industry, can generate power much more efficiently than can larger, slower, steam-driven turbines. These new turbines, however, would produce high-cycle power that would do things like making electric clocks run fast!

New power electronics from the electronics industry can now convert high-cycle, high-voltage power to lower-cycle levels - so the clocks would be OK.

Highly efficient and compact heat exchangers - another breakthrough from the aerospace industry - are now available. These would be employed in treating the gas used to cool the reactor and drive the turbines. A closed-cycle system would require cooling the gas very efficiently in order to recompress it. This is now possible.

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