Nuclear Innovation Is Not an Oxymoron

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EPRI Podcast: Advanced Nuclear Looks Promising

EPRI Podcast: Advanced Nuclear Looks Promising

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2017
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The nuclear industry may not mirror Silicon Valley, but innovation is coming to the forefront of an industry historically slow to change. "It's no longer a question of if - it's more a question of when and by whom," said Andrew Sowder during a recent discussion on advanced nuclear technologies.

Sowder is the principal technical leader for EPRI's advanced nuclear program. He was joined by Tina Taylor, director of strategic programs for EPRI's nuclear sector, and special guest Shane Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology Innovation in the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy.

These three bring unique backgrounds and perspectives, but all agree that advanced nuclear technologies are closer to reality than you might think.

Tina Taylor, EPRI

"Many companies are trying different designs, some of them will fail, some of them will succeed, and that's an environment we really haven't seen in the nuclear industry, at least in my lifetime," commented Taylor.

Another significant change? Industry is now taking the lead when it comes to innovation.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Johnson noted how he has observed this change in his role at the U.S. Department of Energy. "Today there are several companies who are all pursuing these advanced technologies independent of what the department is doing," Johnson said.

"In the past, the Department of Energy was actually doing the pull on the technology in trying to get the industry to come behind us and pick up the technology for eventual deployment for commercial purposes.

Today it's a little different. We have the private sector stepping forward with different ideas on advanced reactors and they're simply asking the department, 'Can you help us?'"

Some advanced technologies are under construction, such as the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. This Gen III+ technology is being deployed around the world, including in the U.S. at the V. C. Summer and Vogtle plants.

Then there are longer-term technologies such as sodium-cooled fast reactors, high-temperature gas reactors, and small modular reactors or SMRs. It's the SMRs that Taylor sees playing a unique role.

"Many are viewing these as a bridging technology between the current light water reactors and

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