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While the decades-old nuclear reactors at San Onofre may have seen their final days of power generation and the tide at large seems to be turning against nuclear power, the federal government is still spending money on developing the technology.

San Diego’s General Atomics, it was announced yesterday, is one of four companies that will share in $3.5 million to be spent toward research on next-generation nuclear reactors that will boost both safety and efficiency. Prototypes of such reactors are drastically scaled down in size and might even be able to generate power using the nuclear waste from older power plants, potentially taking a step toward alleviating the problem of having no approved storage site (or concrete plan for the development of such a site) for spent reactor fuel in the United States.

“Public-private research in advanced nuclear reactors will help accelerate American leadership in the next generation of nuclear energy technologies and enable low-carbon nuclear power to be a significant contributor to the U.S. energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in announcing the expenditures.

The information provided on General Atomics’ role in the research:

General Atomics will conduct research and development on silicon carbide composite material, which could act as a safe and reliable material for fuel rod cladding in advanced reactor designs. Better understanding of silicon carbide composite material will help incorporate this material into advanced nuclear reactor designs and support future licensing efforts.

Private companies conducting the research including General Atomics, GE Hitachi of North Carolina, Gen4 Energy in Denver, and Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric will share in up to 20 percent of their programs’ costs.

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