With the House Republicans' energy bill placing nuclear power in the spotlight this week, it was as good a time as any for McDermott (NYSE:MDR) subsidiary Babcock & Wilcox to unveil its new mPower reactor. I have to say, this is a pretty intriguing offering.

B&W's light water reactor isn't terribly flashy. It's not even categorized as Generation IV, a label applied to a broad range of new designs that aim to improve upon the currently operating base of second- and third-generation reactors. The most notable aspect of the reactor is its size.

The mPower promises to deliver 125 megawatts of rated capacity. That's almost 90% smaller than the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors that Shaw Group (NYSE:SGR) is busily -- and successfully -- pitching to Chinese and American clients.

Modularity enables a reactor site to be scaled up over time, with additional 125-megawatt increments brought online as needed. This is exactly what's offered by the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)-backed eSolar and its solar thermal plant design. I'm a big fan of this model, especially when it comes to nuclear power and its massive up-front investment requirements.

Granted, B&W isn't the first to come up with the idea. A company called NuScale Power is pushing its own 40-megawatt modular reactor design. That firm's alliance with Kiewit Constructors -- yes, Buffett fans, the company that cohabitates with Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) at 3555 Farnam -- signals to me that perhaps this is more than a pipe dream. The entrance of B&W, with a decades-long history of supplying nuclear components to both commercial operators as well as the U.S. Navy, is further confirmation.

The whole point of sticking with proven technology was to navigate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process as expeditiously as possible. Nevertheless, this is going to be a major challenge, given the regulator's limited resources. Pointing to its pile of pending applications, the NRC has apparently informed B&W that its design isn't likely to get much attention, given the agency's current staffing levels.

If Congress is serious about kick-starting a nuclear buildout -- and I suspect that the majority is not – members have to not only implement the fast-track measures the Republicans have proposed, but find the money to beef up the NRC as well.

Modular reactors coming to a city near you? Not in the next decade, I'm afraid.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Fool has a powerful disclosure policy.