Geologic work to start at Clinch River small reactor site soon

Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) says a newly-signed agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) will enable the company’s mPower subsidiary to start certain geologic tests at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Clinch River site, where the parties envision building several 180-MW small modular reactor (SMR) units.

It marks a major early milestone for commercialization of the first small reactor sites in the United States by 2022.

B&W said April 15 that a cooperative agreement has been signed with DOE that clears the way for some of the early work to start. The parties have signed a cooperative agreement for funds from DOE’s SMR program.

In approximately six weeks B&W will begin core borings at the site to collect geological data to verify the make-up of soil and rock in support of seismic analysis and the construction permit application, a B&W spokesperson said. This will be in conjunction with developing a preliminary safety analysis report and an environmental assessment for the Clinch River site. 

The next major step would then be the submission of the construction permit application by TVA in 2015, the B&W spokesperson said.

The $79m allocated for the first year of the program will be immediately available to the B&W mPower program. While the DOE has projected that approximately $150m will be made available during the five-year period of the DOE award is subject to incremental appropriations from Congress. Long-term, the cooperative agreement allows for $226m or more in federal funding.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) recently voiced concerns about the level of SMR funding proposed in the administration’s FY 2014 budget request for DOE.

When asked about the importance of DOE funding, a TVA spokesperson said that DOE funds are beneficial but small modular reactor technology is something TVA has been looking at for several years. B&W said it was evaluating the president’s proposed budget and might comment on SMR funding to the appropriate Congressional committees as opportunities arise.

Project could mean development of Clinch River site

If the project becomes reality up to four 180-MW small reactor units could be built at DOE’s sprawling Oak Ridge Reservation site in Roane County, Tenn.

It would be built at the site where the government once envisioned building the Clinch River Breeder Reactor project. It was a program first authorized around 1970 and Congress eventually terminated the project in the early 1980s.

There’s not much at the site currently, the TVA spokesperson said. There are some towers to gather weather data, as well as a gravel road and office trailers. The site does, however, have access to large electric transmission lines, the spokesperson said.

As for the new cooperative agreement, Assistant Energy Secretary for Nuclear Energy Peter Lyons called it an important step. “U.S.-built SMRs have the potential to cost-effectively support our nation’s energy and climate goals while boosting U.S. manufacturing capabilities and job growth,” Lyons said in a statement.

The signing of the cooperative agreement formalizes B&W’s cost-share agreement with DOE, following the selection of the mPower America team – comprised of B&W, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Generation mPower – as the winner of DOE’s competitively bid funding opportunity, in support of commercial demonstration of the B&W mPower SMR by 2022. B&W mPower and Bechtel will provide licensing and engineering support for the mPower America Project.

“Looking ahead, our collective focus will remain on ensuring the quality and integrity of our design and our readiness to bring the product to market,” said B&W President and CEO James Ferland.

TVA has interest in tapping SMRs as one of the potential options for decreasing coal-fired generation. “This Cooperative Agreement signing sends a strong signal from the DOE endorsing SMR technology and our plans to seek a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said TVA Senior Vice President of Policy and Oversight, Joe Hoagland.

TVA remains engaged in a big nuclear building effort at Watts Bar and, potentially, at Bellefonte. TVA said April 11 that its Watts Bar 2 effort has not suffered any additional schedule delays. It is still expected to meet the revised targets of commercial operation by December 2015 with a total projected cost between $4bn and $4.5bn.

The first key step for the mPower America Project was achieved in February when B&W mPower and TVA signed a contract to prepare and support the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review of a Construction Permit Application for a B&W mPower nuclear plant at TVA’s Clinch River Site.  

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.