Small-Scale Nuclear Potential Reduction in Energy Cost & Environmental Considerations

The economics of the Toshiba 4S reactor appear compelling, especially given the current cost of electricity at 70¢ per kWhr (from the 2007 PCE Report) and estimated heating fuel cost at $7.48 per gallon (based on ISER data) in Galena. The expected cost of electricity from the 10 MW-size 4S is between 10¢ and 20¢ per kWhr. The final cost of delivered power is likely to vary based on a range of issues yet to be addressed related to the building of a nuclear plant in Alaska. Cost will also depend on the degree to which district heating and other uses can be found for the waste heat from the turbine generator system. While the Toshiba reactor can make 10 MW of electricity, it can simultaneously make 17 MWth (58 MMbtu) of thermal energy in the form of warm (~ 150º F ) water.

The 4S reactor is currently at the beginning of the licensing process with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This work is funded by Toshiba. The company expects to submit the design certification application for the 4S sometime in 2009, which will initiate the process that will ultimately result in a Design Certification from the NRC. This process certifies that national experts have reviewed every aspect of the facility’s design and that the vigorous, legally binding review process has been satisfied. In parallel, an environmental report on applying the technology to the site facility is prepared, reviewed, and approved. These factors are resolved in a standard review process, codified in 10 CFR 52 and referred to as the combined licensing application (COLA). Seventeen applications for over 30 new nuclear reactors are currently undergoing this review process.

Environmental Considerations

The U.S. DOE has completed a ‘Situational Analysis’ for the community of Galena, including a preliminary environmental impact assessment. Compared to alternative energy sources, small nuclear plants are promoted as virtually disappearing into the background with little effect on the environment. Clearly, the permitting process under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an extremely rigorous one, which addresses potential safety and environmental concerns. Nonetheless, the Galena project would be the first installation of its kind and so contains inherent risks. For this reason, the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council, a consortium of 66 First Nations (Canada) and Tribes (Alaska) living along the Yukon River and dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Yukon River Watershed, has strongly opposed the Galena nuclear project.

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