We had an oversight and an error in last week’s cover story on the revived and newly renovated Bucks County Playhouse. Our listing information at the end of the article referenced the old contact numbers. They were renovated along with the theater: The new website is www.bcptheater.org and the phone is 215-862-2121.
The oversight was the name of the architect overseeing the work: Michael Schnoering of Mills + Schnoering Architects at 200 Forrestal Road in the Princeton Forrestal Center. Other than that, you may wonder, how was the play? See our review, page 20.
#b#To the Editor: A Nuclear Alternative To Solar on Campus?#/b#
Roland LaPierre’s letter in the July 3 issue of U.S. 1 about the cost-benefit issues with solar installations in New Jersey struck a chord.
When Princeton decided to use 27 acres of prime land to build a solar-power field which was projected to save (gasp) a staggering 5.5 percent of the university’s electricity usage, I decided to do just such an ROI comparison — with a small modular nuclear reactor on campus.
A company called Gen4 Energy has been developing a small reactor about the same size as the ones used in nuclear naval vessels, using a technology proven in the Russian Alfa submarine fleet during the 1980s. Its use would virtually eliminate Princeton University’s carbon emissions for electricity and HVAC, not tweak it by 5 percent.
The university already has what’s known as Combined Heat and Power, or CHP, which supplies both electricity and steam to campus. Steam is used for both winter heating and summer air conditioning, directly for heat, and through steam-power water chillers for AC. Currently, the energy plant is gas-fired, and the waste heat from the gas-turbine generator is used to make steam. It turns out that steam and chilled water are responsible for more carbon emissions per year than electricity generation, on average.
CHP is an ideal application for nuclear power because nuclear has relatively low thermal efficiency (i.e. it makes a lot of waste heat). The Gen4 unit, operated at about 80 percent of its rated power, can supply the university’s average 15 MW electric usage plus its average 28 MW thermal steam requirements for approximately 12 years without refueling. An initial investment of $85 million would generate roughly $16 million/year in energy savings, resulting in an internal rate of return (IRR) of approximately 16 percent — with no subsidies and no consideration of the carbon saved.
In contrast, the solar array will save about $1 million per year for 25 years, at an installed cost of around $30 million (not counting the value of the land it sits on), saving a few percent on electricity only. Its IRR is negative 1.4 percent. That might improve to break-even if the cost of electricity continues to rise, but then so would the savings from the reactor.
In terms of safety, all severe accidents to date have been caused by loss of coolant in water-cooled reactors. The Gen4 design uses liquid metal (lead-bismuth eutectic, LBE) as its working fluid. LBE melts at 124 degrees Celsius, just above the boiling point of water, but does not boil until 1670 degrees Celsius. It is inert with air, water, steel, concrete, and reactor fuel — no hydrogen explosions like Fukushima. In the event of a failure, excess heat is passively transferred to the environment by a gravity system using no pumps, requiring no electricity, and without operator intervention.
The reactor is a sealed unit about as big as a small car and is delivered and removed by truck using standard NRC shipping casks. The fuel is never exposed on-site, and the lead acts as additional shielding during transport. The unit is installed in a hardened underground vault for additional safety and security. It is returned to the factory, still sealed, and replaced at the end of its fuel life. More details can be found by Googling “princeton micro reactor” or “gen4 energy.”
In round numbers, Princeton emits 100,000 tons of CO2 per year. In environmental terms, over a dozen years the choice is between a football-sized lump of radioactive waste, and 1.2 million tons of CO2. To get a grip on that, imagine a block of dry ice (frozen CO2) the size of a football field and as high as Princeton Stadium. 1.2 million tons is about six such blocks.
I do not work in the nuclear industry. I just consider myself a rational environmentalist. But equally rationally, this will never happen in my lifetime. I have spoken with both the Princeton Facilities department and the Gen4 Energy people. They agree it would make perfect sense, but it is politically impossible — because of you, dear reader. You have been bombarded by anti-nuclear propaganda since the coincidence 33 years ago of a scary movie (“China Syndrome”) with a genuine nuclear core-melt accident which harmed … no one at all. The containment vessel at Three Mile Island worked exactly as it was designed to. But unfortunately the entertainment industry collectively tend to be much better Great Communicators than your typical nuclear engineer.
Just a few months ago Gen4 abandoned a bid for a DOE funding offer for a small modular reactor to be “expeditiously licensed and achieve a U.S. Commercial Operation Date (COD) on a domestic site by 2022.” That could have been us, folks. We have a potential ally in Rush Holt, the only Congressman who has ever worked on nuclear power, at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.
At least the predictable foam-at-the-mouth responses to this notion should have some entertainment value during the summer doldrums. For Earth Day, I had some “Glow Tigers” buttons made up promoting campus nuclear power. I still have quite a few left; I can send a handful to the U.S. 1 offices, to be awarded to the most creatively vitriolic authors. Surely they will become collector’s items someday soon.
Mott is a 1973 BSE graduate from Princeton. He holds eight patents in radiation detection and measurement.