Near the banks of the Clinch River in eastern Tennessee, a team of engineers will begin a dig this month that they hope will lead to a new energy future.

Nuclear power typically is big power, so the drive to downsize marks a significant departure from business as usual. Four of the ten largest electricity stations in the world are nuclear-powered, and the average size of U.S. nuclear reactors is more than 1,000 megawatts (large enough to power about 800,000 U.S. homes). The smallest U.S. reactor in operation, the Fort Calhoun station in Nebraska, is more than 500 MW.

 In the first U.S. government-backed SMR effort, Babcock & Wilcox’s nuclear energy subsidiary, B&W mPower, is developing a 180-MW small modular reactor prototype.

Proponents believe a fleet of bite-size reactors might have a better chance of getting built than the typical behemoth. Although existing nuclear reactors (thanks to their cheap fuel) currently provide electricity at lower cost than coal or natural gas plants, building a brand new big nuclear plant is costly.

Source: National Geographic | Will Ferguson