Small Footprint Reactor: Heavy Oil, Little Carbon

Small-Footprint Nuclear Reactors aim to develop new technologies to utilize nuclear energy in the production of low carbon transportation fuels suitable for use in advanced, high efficiency engines, and to enable more efficient use of resources, such as tar sands and biomass, that are abundant in

North America . Current nuclear reactor technologies convert only a small fraction of their energy output—just 33 percent—into a beneficial product (electricity) and then reject the rest as waste heat.  By applying interdisciplinary research, this project will enable 100 percent of reactor energy output to be utilized to produce beneficial and economically valuable products.  Besides electricity, these new technologies will provide non-fossil process heat, hydrogen, and oxygen inputs for advanced fuel production.  These technologies will also feature reduced waste generation and enhanced safety, and will assist in achieving your key strategic goals of reducing carbon dioxide.


A five-year research program is proposed that will include three major elements:

 – Technology trade studies for optimal co-generation of electricity and process steam for tar-sand applications.

  •  – Optimized nuclear energy technologies and analysis methods for the production of low-carbon transportation fuels, involving research in seven Targeted Research Areas.
  •  – Nuclear fuel cycles and radioactive waste management strategies for sustainability and predictable long-term economics.


Research conducted under this program will be interdisciplinary, combining expertise in nuclear engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science and engineering.  This effort will build on UC Berkeley’s existing

College of

Engineering research strengths in nuclear reactor design and licensing, structural design and seismic analysis, materials science, nuclear fuel cycles, and transportation fuels.


Next Steps: Within one year, complete a detailed trade study on nuclear technology options for small footprint reactors for tar sands.  Within two years, establish the infrastructure for seven targeted research areas.  Within five years, develop the key licensing methods, economic assessment tools, and optimal technology selections, and fill in technology gaps, to support near term deployment of small footprint reactors for co-generation of electricity and process steam for tar sands, and to support intermediate term applications for high temperature process heat and hydrogen for the production of low carbon transportation fuels.


“Small Footprint” refers to three major reactor attributes of importance to tar sands oil production and, more generally, to the use of nuclear process heat and hydrogen to produce low-carbon transportation fuels:

1). Enhanced safety and environmental protection, to facilitate flexible sitting of small footprint reactors close to process heat loads

2). Optimal reactor size, to match local process heat needs

3). Advanced structural design and modular construction, to reduce construction costs and schedules and to facilitate deployment in remote locations