DOE invests in nascent small reactor industry with B&W award

In a big development for the fledgling small modular reactor (SMR) industry, the U.S. Department of Energy said Nov. 20 it will support a joint effort between Bechtel International and Babcock & Wilcox (NYSE:BWC) to develop SMRs for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

The Energy Department investment will help B&W obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing and achieve commercial operations by 2022.

The DOE award will support a new project to design, license and help commercialize SMRs in the United States. This award follows a funding opportunity announcement in March 2012.

While no exact dollar figure was announced, the five-year cost-share agreement means DOE will invest up to half of the total project cost, with the industry partners matching this investment by at least one-to-one. The specific total will be negotiated between DOE and B&W.

The current award, as well as any awards resulting in the follow-on competition, will stay within the $452m envelope discussed for the overall licensing demonstration program, said a DOE spokesperson contacted by GenerationHub.

B&W 180-MW units planned for TVA Clinch River

B&W mPower has developed a 180-MW small reactor that is capable of running a four-year operating cycle without refueling. The B&W unit is working with Generation mPower, a joint company formed with Bechtel to design, license and build the 180-MW nuclear units. B&W said on its website that the 180-MW units can be clustered in groups of one-to-10 at power stations.

It is based on advanced integral pressurized water reactor technology which incorporates robust, passive safety protection systems within a fully underground containment structure.

“The DOE’s selection validates B&W mPower as the leading SMR technology and is expected to accelerate market adoption both domestically and internationally, creating more high technology jobs and exports for our country,” said B&W mPower President Christofer Mowry.

TVA is preparing an application to the NRC to license up to four B&W mPower SMRs at its Clinch River site in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“TVA is pleased that the mPower America Team has been selected by the DOE to receive cost-share funding for the design and licensing of a small modular reactor,” said TVA Senior Vice President of Policy and Oversight Joe Hoagland. “It supports TVA’s mission of being a national leader in technological innovation and may provide a new source of clean, base-load generation capacity in the future.”

B&W subsidiaries have executed 150 agreements with suppliers in 36 states to support the B&W mPower program.

The promise of small modular reactors is that they are affordable by small utilities and public power providers that might not otherwise be able to finance a 1,000-MW, multi-billion-dollar nuclear project.

“Our nation’s energy future just became considerably brighter,” Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) President and CEO Marvin Fertel said of the DOE award.

“Small reactor technology is scalable and versatile, capable of incremental development and financially viable for a full range of energy companies in this country,” Fertel went on to say. “In addition to providing carbon-free generation, fuel diversity, forward price stability, and grid-secure power, SMRs can also produce vast quantities of fresh drinking water—an increasingly valuable resource for a growing global population.”

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.