The Energy Department awarded a grant on Tuesday to Babcock & Wilcox—best known for its design of Three Mile Island—for a class of small nuclear reactors.
The North Carolina-based company will receive an unspecified portion of a $452 million Department of Energy grant that aims to speed commercialization of modular nuclear reactors.
“The Obama administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement Tuesday.
Modular reactors, about one-third the size of a conventional nuclear power plant, are designed to be less expensive—and supposedly safer—than existing plants.
"The newest reactor is always the greatest thing since sliced bread," said Arjun Makhijani, president of the nonprofit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland. "We've always been told that nuclear reactors are economical." He adds:
I simply do not believe that reactors properly designed with adequate safety systems would be cheaper than large reactors. You have to worry about if there are leaks. You have to worry about containment.
What will be the cost of guarding these reactors? All these things are being said about the safety and attractiveness of these reactors without a single one having gone through licensing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman writes that the "small modular nukes must still be fought," adding that "the numbers on this imperfect technology do not work without massive taxpayer subsidies or public liability insurance."
The Obama administration is promoting their development as part of an "all-of-the-above" approach to American energy production.
After a "cooperative agreement" is reached with B&W, the DOE will use remaining program funds to finance other reactor designs.