Small reactor developers vying for second round of SMR funding

NuScale Power has become the latest company to reveal that it has filed a letter of intent to compete in the Department of Energy’s second big funding opportunity to speed small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

DOE announced March 11 that it had issued another shot at federal funding for companies seeking to design and certify innovative small reactors. DOE awarded its first SMR cost-sharing agreement in November 2012.

A team led by Babcock & Wilcox (B&W)(NYSE:BWC) affiliate mPower won the 2012 solicitation. The group is targeting 2022 deployment for two 180-MW mPower small modular reactor units at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Clinch River site in Roane County, Tenn.

DOE has said that selected projects will span a five-year period with at least 50% provided by private industry. Subject to congressional appropriations, federal funding for this solicitation and the project announced last year will be derived from the total $452m identified for the DOE SMR support program.

DOE defines SMRs as no more than one-third the size of current nuclear power plants. DOE is seeking 300 MW or smaller reactor designs that can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play.”

The application due date is July 1. Bidders must submit a letter of intent by April 5.

The cost of a 1,000-MW plus nuclear plant can run into billions of dollars, so small reactors are seen as a potentially affordable option for non-carbon emitting baseload power. Supporters say they offer an incremental approach to nuclear power and a potential alternative for natural gas when it comes to replacing old coal-fired units.

Not everyone is a fan of the small reactor concept. Taxpayers for Common Sense has called SMR funding a government money waster in a time of fiscal austerity.

NuScale, NuHub, Westinghouse among those seeking DOE backing

Here is a look at some of the SMR players:

  • NuScale is an Oregon-based company that landed Fluor (NYSE:FLR) as a major investor within the past couple of years. NuScale was born in 2000 as a DOE-funded research project that involved Oregon State University and the Idaho National Environment & Engineering Laboratory. NuScale became a business after the research project ended. A nuclear power plant using NuScale’s technology is comprised of individual nuclear power modules; each produces 45 MW of electricity with its own combined containment vessel and reactor system, and its own designated turbine-generator set. A power plant can include as many as 12 NuScale integral PWR modules to produce as much as 540 MW.
  • NuHub is a public-private consortium launched in October 2010 in South Carolina. NuHub expects more than $40bn of capital investment in nuclear power generation will be deployed within 100 miles of Columbia, S.C., within 15 years. It has been pursuing SMR technology for nearly two years now. NuHub has partnered with Holtec International to use Holtec’s flagship reactor, named SMR-160, at the Savannah River Site (SRS) by the 2025 target date. It is a 160-MW design. SCANA (NYSE: SCG) and the state of South Carolina are also working with NuHub.
  • Westinghouse Electric announced an agreement in February with Burns & McDonnell to further development of the Westinghouse SMR program. The Westinghouse SMR is a 225-MW integral pressurized water reactor (PWR) with all primary components located inside of the reactor vessel. In 2012, Westinghouse and the Missouri Electric Alliance, led by Ameren (NYSE: AEE) started the NexStart SMR Alliance. The group had publicly said they hope to build one of the nation’s first commercial SMRs at Ameren’s Calloway nuclear station in Missouri. Members of this group were surprised not to be included in DOE’s first cost-share award last year.
  • Gen4 Energy (formerly Hyperion Power Generation) withdrew its 70-MW unit from DOE consideration last year. Gen4 said its “unique, next generation product for a very specific market” can still be developed on a federal property.

The companies listed above have all publicly discussed their plans to attract DOE funding for small reactor designs.

Other companies involved with SMR research include: AREVA with a 285-MW design; General Atomics, which is pursuing a compact reactor that could generate power using spent fuel and other nuclear waste; Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Ltd, which is targeting a 165 MW design; GE Hitachi, which is pursuing its PRISM sodium-cooled reactor; and Toshiba with the 4S (Super Small, Safe and Simple) 10-MW reactor.

The Toshiba SMR design made the news a few years ago with a proposal to locate the reactor in the small Alaskan village of Galena. The Toshiba project never went forward and the Galena nuclear plant never came to pass.

Information on the latter group of SMR entities comes from prior GenerationHub reporting, the NRC, company websites and a research paper from the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago.

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.