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The Forgotten History of Small Nuclear Reactors

Economics killed small nuclear power plants in the past—and probably will keep doing so

13 min read
The Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant, Unit 1, in Newport, Mich. was an early small nuclear reactor constructed with funding from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. It reached criticality in 1963 and operated until 1972, despite suffering a partial meltdown
The Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant, Unit 1, in Newport, Mich. was an early small nuclear reactor constructed with funding from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. It reached criticality in 1963 and operated until 1972, despite suffering a partial meltdown in 1966.
Photo: Everett Collection/Alamy

A tantalizing proposition has taken hold again in the nuclear industry: that small nuclear reactors have economic and other advantages over the standard-size ones being built today. The idea is that by reducing the substantial financial risk of a full-scale nuclear project, small reactors are the best option for kick-starting a much-discussed revival of nuclear power.

Although concerns about climate change have led energy planners to retain nuclear power as an option, the technology remains in stasis or decline throughout the Americas and Europe. Two new nuclear projects now under way in the United States were the first to be awarded construction licenses in the country since the late 1970s. Globally, nuclear power produced about 11 percent [PDF] of all electricity in 2013, down from its high of 17.6 percent in 1996, according to data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014. In the United States, the number of operating nuclear power plants has slipped below 100, with the recent shutdown of the Vermont Yankee plant.

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Medal of Honor Goes to Microsensor and Systems Pioneer

The UCLA professor developed aerospace and automotive safety systems

3 min read
Photo of a man in a blue jacket in front of a brick wall.
UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

IEEE Life Fellow Asad M. Madni is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor. He is being recognized “for pioneering contributions to the development and commercialization of innovative sensing and systems technologies, and for distinguished research leadership.”

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Video Friday: An Agile Year

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Video Friday: An Agile Year

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2022: 23–27 May 2022, Philadelphia
ERF 2022: 28–30 June 2022, Rotterdam, Germany
CLAWAR 2022: 12–14 September 2022, Açores, Portugal

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

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