The Tri-Cities has the opportunity to be a leader in the future of nuclear energy, which may lie in small modular reactors, Victor Reis, a senior adviser to the Office of Secretary for the Department of Energy, said in Kennewick on Wednesday.
He spoke at a membership lunch of the Tri-City Development Council.
The Tri-Cities is a community that does not have to be convinced of the value of nuclear production, he said.
Small modular reactors could be less than a third the size of conventional reactors, making them less expensive and more flexible. They could be produced in factories and then installed where needed, including in groups of more than one, with the reactors ready to "plug and play" on delivery.
In his government experience, Reis said he's seen projects fail if they did not have three strong elements: a presidential vision, a clear strategy and a timely goal.
Small modular reactor programs might fit that model, he said.
President Obama has talked about the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and the nation has a timely goal of increasing the percentage of clean energy used from 42 percent to 80 percent by 2035.
Reaching that goal is likely to require additional nuclear energy capacity beyond what can be produced by the current strategy of extending the life of current large-scale reactors and adding new reactors when they are cost competitive, Reis said.
He sees a possible strategy to make nuclear play an increasing role that would require two or more small modular reactors to be licensed. Factory production could lean on the infrastructure and expertise developed in the nation's program to produce nuclear reactors for the U.S. Navy.
Factory production might have economies of scale, but also would have benefits that include improved production over time and quality controls, he said.
To create the demand for initial development of production, the U.S. government would be the likely first user, possibly installing the small nuclear reactors to power Department of Energy or Department of Defense projects, he said.
The 2012 federal budget includes $67 million for licensing and engineering support of small nuclear reactors.
A small nuclear reactor project has been proposed as a possible component of a clean energy park at Hanford as DOE releases unneeded and environmentally clean land for other uses.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com