Neighborhood Nuclear

Small-scale nuclear reactors could be a new, cheap way to provide power for neighborhoods. But their inherent controversy remains.
February 20, 2010, 9am PST | Nate Berg
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"'Small reactors can't address all the problems standing in the way of more nuclear investment, but they can address the biggest barriers: the economic ones,' says Richard Lester, head of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. Building giant reactors, he points out, isn't the only way to achieve economies of scale; another way is to mass produce inexpensive mini-nukes. If they're designed as modules, a single unit might power a remote town or mine, while a dozen used in tandem could match the output of a traditional nuclear plant. In the developing world, small reactors would place less strain on fragile electrical grids. And the ability to start small and gradually add power modules could appeal to cash-strapped utilities everywhere."

No small-scale nuclear reactors have been installed, but a small village in Alaska is looking to become one of the first to try the technology.

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Published on Monday, February 15, 2010 in National Geographic
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