New, cutting edge reactors could completely reshape the way people think about nuclear power plants

An Oregon business has developed technology that could help to alter the way we think about nuclear power. NuScale Power's small modular reactors, or SMRs, measure 65 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter.

Jose N Reyes, co-founder and CTO of the business, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy that they were "commercializing a small, modular reactor. It's a nuclear power reactor, that's a pressurized water reactor that can produce 50 megawatts electric… enough power for about 50,000 homes."

For its part, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy has said that advanced small modular reactors are a key part of the department's "goal to develop safe, clean and affordable nuclear power options."

According to the DOE, the advantages of advanced SMRs include their relatively small size, lower capital investment and "provisions for incremental power additions."

Reyes added that the NuScale power module consisted of a reactor vessel inside a containment vessel, all factory manufactured. As many as 12 modules can be operated and monitored from a single control room. Reyes went on to explain that the design was scalable, and that customers could add power as and when it was needed.

One potential advantage of the modular system lies in the amount of space it takes up, with Reyes saying that a NuScale facility's 'protective zone' could be at a site's boundary.

"What that means then, is a reduction in cost but it also reflects the fact that this is a very, very safe plant," he claimed. By contrast, Reyes said that traditional nuclear power plants in the U.S. were required to have a 10 mile radius around the plant to act as a protective zone.

The director general of the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, William D. Magwood IV, told Sustainable Energy that SMRs were an "entirely new way of building a nuclear power plant."

Magwood IV added that the SMRs were "getting away from the large central stations that cost so much to build, and are so difficult, and replacing those with small factory built modules which can be put in place very cost effectively."