Nuclear ‘Microreactor’ Could Supply Power to Remote Consumers
The Westinghouse Electric Company, a US provider of nuclear technology, is developing a design for a reliable, low-maintenance compact heat pipe reactor that could be deployed in remote locations or for other applications requiring autonomous off-grid power generation. Westinghouse claims its eVinci nuclear “microreactor” is disruptive and could help decarbonize electricity production.
The company says the main benefits of microreactor are its solid core and advanced heat pipes, the latter facilitating passive core heat extraction for autonomous operation and load following, i.e., the ability to adapt power output to match demand fluctuations. As such, Westinghouse says, the eVinci has minimal moving parts and almost operates as a “solid-state” reactor. Its compact design means the eVinci can be transported by four trucks carrying the reactor, the electrical conversion system, instrumentation and controls, and additional equipment. The core of the reactor is designed to operate for three years or more, so that it would not require frequent refueling.
The microreactor can generate 5 MW of electricity, or 13 MW of heat, from a 15 MW thermal core. The company notes that waste thermal energy emitted as a byproduct of the power conversion system can power district heating systems or generate low-temperature steam. eVinci could also be used to generate hydrogen, in applications for maritime environments, or for industrial heat. Its passive cooling design using heat pipes eliminates the need for pumps to circulate water or gas. Conventional reactor coolant pumps, reactor coolant systems, primary coolant chemistry controls, and all associated auxiliary systems are replaced by the heat transfer system.
With the eVinci, it would be possible to supply emissions-free power and heat to remote communities, mining sites, data centers, and other consumers that are not connected to the grid or require autonomous generation capacity for other reasons, Westinghouse says. The company hopes to subject eVinci to additional tests between 2023 and 2025 with nuclear fuel at one of the US’s national laboratories. Subsequently, the reactor design could be finalized and a prototype produced for further testing in 2026. While regulatory hurdles remain to be cleared, Westinghouse believes the microreactor will be ready for commercial deployment by 2027.
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