Can Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Find Their Sea Legs?

Nuclear power must be part of a strategy to reduce carbon emissions, but legislation needs to move faster on land and on sea.

Apr 27, 2014 at 9:55AM

Nuclear power plants do bring jobs to rural areas, and in some cases they actually boost local housing prices since these plants create jobs. However, whether or not you believe nuclear power does or does not emit harmful radiation, many people would likely opt to not live right next door to a nuclear power plant facility if they had the choice. Today, they may not even need to consider such a move thanks to a floating plant concept coming out of MIT, which largely builds on the success of the U.S. Army of Corp Engineers' MH-1A floating nuclear reactor, installed on the Sturgis, a vessel that provided power to military and civilians around the Panama Canal. The Sturgis was decommissioned, but only because there was ample power generation on land. So the viability of a floating nuclear plant does make a lot of sense. 

Presently the only floating nuclear plant is being constructed in Russia (expected to be in service in two years). However, that plant is slated to be moored on a barge in a harbor. That differs from MIT's idea to put a 200 MWe reactor on a floating platform roughly six miles out to sea. 

The problem with the floating reactor idea or land-based SMR version is most investors are hard-pressed to fork over money needed for a nuclear build-out that could cost billions of dollars and take over a decade to complete. That very problem is today plaguing the land-based mPower SMR program of The Babcock & Wilcox Co. (NYSE:BWC). Also, although the reactors would have a constant cooling source in the ocean water, I'd like to see studies that show that sea life is not disrupted. Then there is always the issue with security and power lines to the mainland which needs to be addressed.

At a time when reducing global warming is becoming a hotly debated topic by the IPCC, these SMRs (land or sea based) can help reduce our carbon footprint if legislation would allow them to proceed. Instead, the government is taking perfectly good cathedral-sized nuclear power plants offline, something they will likely come to regret in coming years from an economic and environmental perspective. Just ask the Germans. 

SMRs can produce dependable baseload power that is more affordable for isolated communities, and they can be used in remote areas by energy and metals production companies while traditional reactors cannot. So the notion of plopping SMRs several miles offshore so they can withstand tsunami swells is really interesting. If the concept can actually gain momentum that would help Babcock, Westinghouse, and NuScale Power. I would also speculate that technology currently being used in the oil and gas drilling sector, possibly even from the robotics industry, could be integrated into offshore light water nuclear designs for mooring, maintenance, and routine operational purposes. 

In today's modern world, we have a much greater dependence on consumer electronics, we are swapping our dependence of foreign oil with a growing reliance for domestic natural gas, and we face increasing pressures to combat climate change here at home as well as meet our own 2020 carbon goals. With that said, we need to think longer term and create domestic clean energy industries that can foster new jobs, help keep the power on even when blackouts occur and produce much less carbon at both the private and public sector levels. Therefore to me,  advancing the SMR industry on land or by sea is a nice way to fight our archaic energy paradigm and move our energy supply into a modern era. Yet without the government's complete commitment to support nuclear power via legislation and a much needed expedited certification process, the idea of a floating SMR plant will be another example of wasted energy innovation that could simply get buried at sea. 

OPEC is absolutely terrified of this game-changer
Imagine a company that rents a very specific and valuable piece of machinery for $41,000... per hour (that's almost as much as the average American makes in a year!). And Warren Buffett is so confident in this company's can't-live-without-it business model, he just loaded up on 8.8 million shares. An exclusive, brand-new Motley Fool report reveals the company we're calling OPEC's Worst Nightmare. Just click HERE to uncover the name of this industry-leading stock... and join Buffett in his quest for a veritable LANDSLIDE of profits!



John Licata has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers