May 16, 2023
You read that right. Sound a little far-fetched? It might surprise you but nuclear reactors for home use isn’t some far out, science fiction story. Small-scale nuclear reactors have powered remote research stations, military bases and spacecraft. However, it wasn’t until the 21st century that they began to be considered for residential use.
In the late 2,000’s Toshiba introduced its 4S small modular reactor (SMR). The ‘4S’ acronym stands for ‘Super-Safe, Small and Simple, emphasizing the reactor’s safety features, compact size and user-friendly operation. It’s a compelling idea, especially these days where an aging grid, sustainability concerns and the environment have all collided sending homeowners looking for alternatives to power their homes.
The global demand for clean, reliable and sustainable energy sources drove the shift toward residential applications. As the world sought alternatives to coal and oil, nuclear power emerged as a viable option, leading to the development of small modular reactors that are compact, easily transportable and scalable.
As Debbie and I continue our smart home planning, powering our home has certainly been an area of concern. Solar seems like the obvious answer but in the statistically windiest place in the United States, wind turbines are a logical option. There are some pretty interesting wind turbine solutions for homes now but, like solar, they tend to be expensive. So why not consider a small modular reactor.
Toshiba’s 4S reactor is perhaps the most well-known example of SMR technology to date. This sodium-cooled fast reactor was designed to generate up to 10 megawatts of electricity to power a small town or around 3,000 homes. When it was first announced, the 4S reactor generated a lot of excitement, as it offered the possibility of bringing nuclear power to remote communities without requiring extensive infrastructure. However, despite a few test deployments, the 4S reactor never really achieved widespread adoption.
It makes one wonder if we could someday power our homes with personal nuclear power plants. But where are these futuristic energy sources now, and are they still coming?
Although the Toshiba 4S didn’t revolutionize the energy sector, SMR technology is far from obsolete. In fact, it has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Companies like NuScale Power, Rolls-Royce and even General Electric have created their own SMR designs, and these reactors are gradually entering the market.
Numerous countries are also investing in SMR research and development, with governments acknowledging the technology’s potential to help achieve their clean energy objectives. Here in the US, the Department of Energy has allocated large sums for SMR-related projects, and other nations like the UK and Canada are following suit.
While the idea of building our new home with a nuclear reactor is both exciting and terrifying, we have to keep our expectations in check. The SMRs currently under development are primarily intended for use in remote areas, military installations, and industrial settings.
However, as the technology continues to evolve and regulatory frameworks adapt to accommodate smaller reactors, it’s not difficult to envision a future where communities and neighborhoods share SMR-generated power. This would enable a decentralized and resilient energy grid, reducing our dependence on large-scale power plants and extensive transmission lines. I may be dating myself here but do you think the Jetsons may have had a nuclear-powered home in the clouds?
Even though we probably won’t be installing a nuclear reactor in our new home, the technology is very much alive and progressing. The whole idea is pretty interesting though my guess is the cost alone would be prohibitive. As the world keeps seeking clean, sustainable energy solutions, SMRs could play a pivotal role in fulfilling our needs. I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime but perhaps one day, your house will be powered by a mini nuclear plant. For now, you may have to turn to the sun or wind for independent power.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this. Is this far out science fiction? Would you consider an SMR if it were more mainstream? Are you taking advantage of alternative forms of energy in your home? From a technology perspective I love the idea. But practically it does terrify me a little as well. I’ve had neighbors who couldn’t figure out their lawnmower.
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’
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