As the U.S. transitions from fossil fuels, utilities must ramp up the amount of clean energy on the grid.

Wind, solar, and nuclear power do not emit carbon pollution. But the amount of energy produced by wind and solar fluctuates, and large nuclear reactors are expensive and time-consuming to build.

So researchers are working on small nuclear reactors that could be deployed faster and at a lower cost.  These systems are about a tenth to a third of the size of a traditional nuclear power plant.

Shannon Bragg-Sitton is with the Idaho National Laboratory. 

“These smaller systems allow for factory manufacturing, almost an assembly-line type of manufacturing of the subsystems and components that can in some cases even be assembled at that factory, put into standard shipping containers on a truck, rail line, or barge and shipped to the site for very rapid deployment in operation,” she says.

Critics question the safety, but Bragg-Sitton says existing facilities have been upgraded with more advanced controls and fuels. And the technology continues to improve. 

So she sees small-scale nuclear as one way to add more clean energy to the grid by the end of the decade.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media