The last new nuclear power plant came online in the U.S. in 1996 and the next one may be ready as early as 2012, but after that, it's hard to say when the next nuclear reactor might begin generating electricity in the United States. And though touted as an important source of low-carbon electricity in an energy-hungry world, nuclear power plants, no matter how small, won't be popping up in your neighborhood any time soon. But when they do, there's a good chance they won't look anything like the aging fleet of 1,200-megawatt plants that dot the U.S.
At anywhere from 10 to 300 megawatts, small modular reactors, like the Babcock & Wilcox design pictured above, are being touted by some as safer, cheaper and more scalable alternatives to large-scale nuclear power plants. And a whole litany of companies have unveiled designs and are lining up in the U.S. to apply for approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But that process could take a while. one company, NuScale Power, of Corvalis, Oregon, says in this energyNOW! segment, the earliest their reactor will be available is 2018.
Image: (Top) A small modular nuclear reactor design by Babcock & Wilcox