OPEN100 is informed by a deep dive into the triumphs and failures of the nuclear industry, incorporating the best elements of design, engineering, and execution, while learning from historical setbacks and misaligned incentives. The nuclear industry must innovate, but in the service of making nuclear power cheaper rather than reinforcing outmoded designs and regulations. Only then can nuclear be a viable technology, enabling the transition to a carbon-free world.
What makes OPEN100 innovative?
The OPEN100 design is based on a standard Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), the workhorse of the industry with 300 units in operation around the world. Our innovation is an implementation and deployment platform—there are no changes to the nuclear technology itself. While there are many exciting technological developments to reactor core design slated to emerge in the coming decades, we made a deliberate choice to avoid new reactor technologies to streamline licensing, utilize the standard supply chain, and eliminate technology risk.
How is this different from a standard PWR?
Three main assumptions have driven our design:
Operated by digital controls that are common throughout the energy industry,
Sized to 100MW electric to match standard power plant equipment,
Licensed through a modernized, performance-based, regulatory process utilizing probabilistic risk analysis.
Why open source?
The Energy Impact Center is a research organization with a mandate to reverse climate change in 20 years. But open-sourcing is not just for the public good, it's good for business. By creating a common platform, we are:
Restoring competition to the supply chain,
Increasing financial transparency,
Enabling simultaneous developments.
All these actions build markets, increasing quantity of stakeholders, accelerating growth, and lifting the cap on the potential size of the sector.
The 100MW size fits 90% of energy markets around the world. Smaller generating capacity means more flexible siting, the ability to use a standard supply chain, and access to a greater variety of capital sources. All of which improve economics.
Who can contribute?
Energy Impact Center is responsible for the foundational concept, engineering, stakeholder engagement, marketing, and platform management of the OPEN100 project. EIC is collaborating with national laboratory and industry partners to validate and improve the project's technical and economic accuracy. We encourage the participation of interested and qualified organizations. If you would like to contribute, please contact us.
What are the potential applications?
The climate benefits of nuclear energy go well beyond clean electricity generation. While electricity accounts for a quarter of global energy use, roughly half of our energy is used as heat—building warmth and industrial applications. The smaller capacity of OPEN100 makes it well suited for local heat production. Light water reactors produce heat at temperatures greater than 300°C, suitable for many industrial uses such as manufacturing, paper production, desalination, and district heating.
Is nuclear energy "clean"?
Nuclear power is the cleanest energy technology across virtually every metric. During operation, zero air pollution or carbon dioxide is produced. Even when accounting for lifecycle emissions—including uranium mining, plant construction, operation, and decommissioning—nuclear power has the lowest carbon emissions of any electricity generation technology. Nuclear power plants can produce 1,000 times as much energy as renewables for the same material input—meaning 1,000 times less physical waste and emissions for the same amount of energy produced, all with an ecological footprint a fraction of the size.
Is there a limited supply of nuclear fuel?
A common misconception is that there are only a few hundreds years worth of uranium available. This stems from an arbitrary definition of less than $200/kg being an economically viable cost for extracting uranium. Uranium is as common an element on Earth as tin, and at slightly over $200/kg, can be drawn directly from the ocean in virtually limitless quantities. The oceans contain roughly 25 billion years worth of uranium at current levels of global energy demand. Even at higher fuel prices, there is negligible increase in overall price of electricity as nuclear fuel is 6 orders of magnitude more energy dense than conventional fuel.
Can nuclear power plants produce nuclear weapons?
Standard light water reactors are proliferation-resistant by their very physics. As with uranium, plutonium is only a proliferation risk in a highly enriched form; but in a light water reactors, plutonium-240 (isotopically diluting) accumulates in a manner which renders the plutonium-239 (weapons-grade) useless. This characteristic differentiates Power Reactors (Light Water, Boiling Water) from Production Reactors (RBMK, Heavy Water Reactors). OPEN100 is based on a standard Pressurized (Light) Water Reactor.
Will nuclear power plants always be slow and expensive to build?
Not if we have anything to say about it. Nuclear power plants became slow and expensive to build beginning in the 1980s. Before that, the construction was much easier and faster.
For example, the Point Beach 1 and 2 reactors combined produce more power than an AP1000, were built in parallel in under four years for just $733 million in 2020 dollars, and that's using 1960s technology. Meanwhile, Georgia Power's Vogtle 3 plant, when completed, will produce less power, take 10 years to build, and cost $13 billion.
The trend in big infrastructure projects over the last few decades has been to make them more expensive, cumbersome, and complicated to build. OPEN100 is dedicated to making nuclear power affordable and abundant by producing designs that are smaller and simpler.