104 nuclear power plants currently provide electricity for 20% of the nation. One of these reactors (1,000 Megawatt) provides electricity for about one million homes. This is great, but good things can come in small packages, too.
For instance, Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. is looking to commercialize small, nuclear reactors for remote locations as soon as 2013. The reactors, developed at the Las Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation’s leading nuclear laboratories, are the size of about the size of a hot tub and buried under ground. According to the company offering the reactor, it is impossible for them to melt down or for the nuclear material to be diverted for weapons purposes. Furthermore, the amount of nuclear waste one of these reactors produces after about 5 years is about the size of a softball and could be recycled and used again. Hyperion’s plants are
smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos.”
And they’re not the only small nuclear reactor game in town, either. Toshiba has been working on a 20 feet by 6 feet reactor called the 4S that would produce electricity at about half the price of regular grid electricity. They could become commercially viable in Japan very soon, and Toshiba hopes to expand to Europe and the U.S. within the next few years. Indeed, the town of Galena, Alaska has passed a resolution calling for the deployment of a 4S to bring affordable power to their remote location. A company called NuScale Power, Inc. is also commercializing a modular, 45MW nuclear power plant. And there are others as well.
This is a perfect example of why the nation can’t move forward with centrally planned energy policy. Innovation and the market will develop unforeseen means to meet energy demands that would be most likely be restricted by the tunnel vision of a central planner. Government subsidization of some technologies inevitably crowd out investment and innovation for others.
Whether it is powering remote towns like Galena, AK or major cities like New York, nuclear power will be critical to meeting America’s future energy needs. But it will not happen so long as the government continues picking winners and losers. Government interference in the marketplace causes a misallocation of resources away from where they could be most efficient used. So instead of subsidizing certain technologies at the expense of others, the federal government should provide an efficient and predictable regulatory and political environment and allow all energy technologies to compete. This is the best way to ensure that a nuclear renaissance truly does come to pass.