America could generate 263.3 gigawatts of greenhouse-gas free electricity by converting 394 coal-burning power plants to nuclear power.
That means the United States could generate 263.3 billion watts of carbon-free electricity by converting coal-burning plants to nuclear. To explain, a gigawatt is a billion watts of electricity.
Utilities could install small modular nuclear reactors at 394 coal-burning power plant sites, a US Department of Energy study claims. The study found 157 closed coal plants and 237 operating coal-burning plant sites that can house small modular reactors (SMRs).
Can Small Modular Reactors Generate 263.3 gigawatts of carbon-free electricity?
Installing SMRs at 125 abandoned coal plants could provide 64.8 gigawatts (64.8 billion watts) of electricity, Investigating Benefits and Challenges of Converting Coal Plants into Nuclear Plants claims. Similarly, installing 190 operating coal plant sites could generate 198.5 gigawatts (198.5 billion watts) of electricity. I got 263.3 gigawatts by adding 198.5 gigawatts and 64.8 gigawatts.
Moreover, using SMRs could reduce the costs of replacing coal plants by 15% to 35%, the study claims. The Argonne, Idaho, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories conducted the study for the US Department of Energy.
Interestingly, the study claims they could convert 80% of US coal plant sites to nuclear with SMRs by 2050. That could help the United States achieve a goal of producing net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Can Small Modular Reactors Make America Carbon Free?
An advanced small modular reactor is a smaller reactor they can build in a factory and haul to a plant site.
For example, Holtec International’s SMR-160 reactor could generate 160 megawatts (160 million watts) of electricity, yet it only takes up 4.5 acres of space. Moreover, Holtec management claims they can build SMR-160s on a production line in Camden, New Jersey.
Hence, they could haul an SMR to a coal-plant site on a truck. In contrast, they build traditional nuclear reactors onsite, which is expensive. Another advantage of SMRs is that you can install several of them at a site to generate larger amounts of power.
Can SMRs fight Climate Change?
However, SMRs generate far less power than traditional nuclear plants such as California’s Diablo Canyon. Diablo Canyon’s two reactors can generate 18,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year. Diablo Canyon takes up 12 acres of coast land.
NuScale’s SMR uses 12 modules to produce 600 megawatts (600 million) watts of electricity. They hope to test the NuScale SMR at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho. This test will provide electricity to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a consortium of public power utilities. The Department of Energy will give Carbon Free Power Project LLC, a UAMPS subsidiary, $1.4 billion grant to demonstrate the NuScale SMR, a press release states.
I think a combination of solar power and Small Modular Reactors (SMR) could meet America’s electricity needs if we take advantage of them. However, the federal government will need to make massive investments in SMRs to get utilities to use them. I think that will cost billions, but the federal government has the money.
For example, we could reallocate one quarter of America’s $813.3 billion defense budget ($203.325 billion) to converting the power system to carbon-free energy. Since they waste a large percentage of that money on obsolete weapons, such as aircraft carriers and tanks. I think this diversion will not affect military readiness or national defense.
We could increase the reach of that money by issuing nuclear power bonds to finance the building of nuclear power plants. The US Treasury could guarantee the bonds to make them more attractive to investors.
We could also give the funding of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) $100 billion to research and develop new nuclear power technologies. Giving ARPA-E the power to issue bonds to finance its activities could increase the amount of money to develop additional energy sources.
The recent California power crisis shows America needs to rebuild its electricity supply. Why not take advantage of that crisis to make our electric grid, carbon free?