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 counterproductive designs and regulations. Only then can nuclear be a viable technology, enabling the transition to a carbon-free world.
What's innovative about your solution?
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. The resulting design is a combination of elements from Argonne's 1959 cost study as well as the NRC's FSAR documents for early PWRs.
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, performanced based, regulatory process
Why are you open sourcing it?
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?
The Energy Impact Center is responsible for the foundational concept, engineering, stakeholder engagement, marketing, and platform management of the OPEN100 project. EIC has partnered with national laboratories and industry partners to validate and improve the technical and economic accuracy of the model. 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 clean energy?
Nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide during operation. When accounting for lifecycle emissions from all phases of the project—mining, construction, operation, and decommissioning—nuclear power plants have the lowest carbon footprint of any electricity generation method. Nuclear 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.
Should nuclear power plants be situated far away from cities?
Irrespective of plant location there is no hazard to public health from the meltdown of a light water reactor. In the case of any nuclear accident there are two possible paths for radionuclides to affect humans, direct physical proximity or biological uptake; in the case of a light water reactor accident, neither apply. The potential of being directly exposed to a dangerous level of radiation outside of the reactor facility is negligible due to the distance based fall-off rate of radiation (the inverse square law).
People who are outside of the nuclear reactor building itself would be a sufficient distance to prevent exposure. Regarding biological uptake, for radionuclides to reach concentrations high enough to pose a hazard to human health, they must pass through several stages of environmental re-concentration: deposition across a farm field, followed by cow grazing, followed by milk ingestion. As demonstrated by Fukushima, the quantities of radiation released in the case of a light water reactor accident are so low, less than 30 grams of I-131, even environmental concentration isn't sufficient to cause harm.
Thus, whether this type of nuclear reactor was in the middle of a city or a country field, as long as there are no humans in the reactor room itself, there is no practical means by which a person could be affected. This is of course to be differentiated from a graphite reactor that can catch fire, increasing the distribution of radionuclides to the environment. Given this understanding, OPEN100 visualizations and models do not preclude siting near population centers. While many countries have regulatory restrictions on nuclear plant placement, we challenge this counterproductive restriction to show a vision of what is possible.
Do reactors need containment domes?
Airtight containment domes were conceived to trap any possible radioactive atom from escaping. Ironically, in the case of a nuclear accident where heat is present, a containment dome creates a pressurized system that make radionuclides more likely to escape.
Containment domes became popular after the Chernobyl accident but a better alternative would be a non-airtight enclosure that allows gases to escape and avoid pressure build-up. This strategy is less complex and more effective.
Do nuclear components need an N-stamp to assure quality?
N-stamp is a nuclear specific quality assurance certification, well-intentioned as a means to guarantee the quality and pedigree of any given component. However, the unintended consequence of requiring a specific compliance process for a niche industry has been a reduction in the total number of nuclear component manufacturers, undermining competition, and innovation.
There is no component in a nuclear power plant that couldn't be certified under chemical industry codes, which have comparable quality standards and are far more commonly accepted across the industrial supply chain. Because far more components are produced under chemical industry standards, they benefit from better inspection processes, precision tools, and workers with more considerable expertise.
The OPEN100 model does not require N-stamp certification, only standard ASME certifications.
Will nuclear power plants will 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.