Two western Pennsylvania congressmen are advocating that the federal government back a new generation of miniature nuclear reactors that could power individual neighborhoods.
Reps. Jason Altmire, a Democrat, and Tim Murphy, a Republican, announced at the western Pennsylvania headquarters of Westinghouse that their proposal calls for construction of two small nuclear reactors, both funded partially by the U.S. Department of Energy, by 2021. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says it is part of their efforts to give western Pennsylvania a role in energy legislation expected from Congress later this year
Westinghouse has designed a Small Modular Reactor that would shrink nuclear operations to one capsule about 90 feet tall, does not need to be located near a large body of water for cooling purposes and can be located within miles of an industrial plant, military base or neighborhood to be powered, officials said.
Westinghouse CEO Aris Candris said the seven-month-old project is still in the "nursery" stages of research and development but the company envisions the plants as something that can be put anywhere, like a new windmill.
Altmire introduced the same measure last year to no avail, but he said higher gasoline prices have improved the environment for energy legislation. The renewed push comes, however, after greater scrutiny for the nuclear industry following the March 11 earthquake that triggered a tsunami that knocked out cooling systems at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, causing the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. .
"You can't pretend Japan didn't happen," Altmire said, but added that the smaller reactors would use the same safety mechanisms as the company's larger ones, including a "passive cooling system," that can douse overheated reactors with water stored inside the chamber.
Within hours of the announcement, however, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a statement calling on Westinghouse to answer to technical issues the agency said it has found in the design of the company's flagship AP1000 reactor, such as the reactor's shield building design and some pressure expected within the containment. Westinghouse said in a statement that it would continue to work with the commission, but none of the issues are "safety-significant."