10.3.3 – Micro grids and remote power generation

One of the other advantages of small or micro sized reactors, the ability to provide power for micro grids, may not be all its cracked up to be. In many cases a combination of renewables backed up by biomass fuel, or fossil fuels often works out cheaper and more practical.

One example often sited for these modular reactors is remote Artic stations and military bases. However, putting a reactor here ignores certain realties, notably that such sites are usually only occupied for part of the year. Artic stations often shut down over the winter with most of the serious scientists going home. The rest of the year a small skeleton crew keeps things running and basically keep digging the place out of the snow. By keeping a reactor on site we greatly increase the size of this skeleton crew (even a turnkey reactor needs someone to look after it!). Once you factor in the increased costs imposed by this, plus the higher capital costs of the nuclear plant to begin with, plus the difficulty of getting it and many tons of concrete (to provide radiation shielding) out to the middle of a wilderness, you realise it would be much cheaper just sticking with a diesel generator and shipping in the fuel.

Indeed even the DEW line radar sites which operated from the 1950’s to 1990’s year round deep within the Canadian Artic, were powered by diesel generators. The idea of nuclear power was indeed floated, but dropped as impractical and too costly. As far as active military bases, there is the tactical issue of shipping the reactors in (if I were the enemy I know when I’d chose to attack!) plus the small matter of running or refuelling a nuclear reactor while under fire from incoming artillery!

Of course there are some situations where a small or micro reactor could work out quite well, some small artic towns (that are occupied year around) and a few isolated spots in the steppes of North America and Central Asia, but we are talking a tiny niche market here.


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