A boon to the economy? Or a boondoggle?

That’s the debate raging over a new nuclear technology that — depending on your perspective — is either a game-changer in electrical generation, or a failure-in-the-making that will fleece taxpayers for a half-billion dollars.

The technology, called “small modular reactors,” will be the centerpiece of an entirely new way of thinking about nuclear power. They are much smaller than what traditionally has been built in this country — producing about one-sixth the power. They’ll also cost less — about $1 billion-2 billion apiece, compared with $10 billion-$15 billion for a large plant.

Typical nuclear units produce between 1,000 and 1,400 megawatts of electricity. SMRs, as they’re called, top out at about 180 megawatts. The plan is to build them in two-packs, for a total of 360 megawatts, which is right around the output of a coal-fired unit.

Continue reading →