Golder Associates recently released a report requested by the Washington Legislature that details the potential for new nuclear power from small modular reactors (SMRs) in the state.
The study, directed by the 2015 Washington Legislature, was meant to identify possible locations in the state where SMRs could be suitably located, identify permits needed for such a facility, and make recommendations on how the siting and permitting process for SMRs could be streamlined.
SMRs are scalable nuclear power plants using reactors with gross power output no greater than 300 MW per unit, and where each reactor is designed for factory manufacturing and ease of transport, such as by truck, rail, or barge.
The report also describes the typical process likely to be followed to permit such a facility in Washington; makes recommendations for streamlining this permitting, mostly using existing rules and regulations; and suggests studies or activities that the state can implement, track, or investigate in the future.
The report describes the extensive licensing process that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would apply in the siting of any SMR, and how the state could better coordinate with that process, recognizing that the NRC siting process is likely to be the critical path because it is longer than the state’s process.
The Golder report looks at the roles of other federal agencies as well as the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC).
For purposes of the study Golder looked at a generic SMR design model that is an amalgam of two designs that have drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Those designs come from Oregon-based NuScale Power and mPower, a Babcock & Wilcox affiliate.
Since DOE awarded initial funding, the mPower project has slowed down its rate of development and lost its DOE funding, leaving the NuScale design as the apparent leader for the time being, although the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is moving forward with a non-specific siting approach that may involve NuScale, mPower, or another technology in the near future.
“The mPower project is continuing, but at a slower pace,” Golder said in the report. “Our model SMR is a combination of the two and this report does not favor any SMR design.”
The report notes that SMRs offer many potential benefits including small size and modularity where the units can be almost completely built in factory settings. Their size, construction efficiency, and passive safety systems can reduce the overall cost. In addition SMR units could be placed underground or potentially underwater, providing more protection from natural hazards (seismic or tsunami according to the location) or man-made hazards – such as an aircraft crash.
Overseas, a few countries are moving ahead with SMR deployment; many of these international projects use technologies other than the light water reactor (LWR) designs leading the U.S. development. China has high temperature gas reactor (HTGR) units in development. India and China also have PWR (pressurized water reactor) projects in development.
“We concluded that the location suitability analysis should include the identification of existing power plant sites in Washington as likely candidates for suitable locations,” Golder said in the report.
The 135-page report includes a review of power plant sites throughout the state.
Pacific Northwest has a long nuclear history
The Pacific Northwest has a long history of nuclear power development. Hanford’s history began with the B reactor during World War II, and included other defense reactors.
In 1987 nuclear power development in the state slowed with the shutdown of the Hanford N reactor. That same year, after 10 years of planning and research related to high-level nuclear waste disposal at Hanford (the Basalt Waste Isolation Project [BWIP]), Congress cancelled that program and selected Yucca Mountain, Nevada for nuclear waste disposal.
During that same period and afterwards, the Hanford cleanup program grew, leading to the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 that set timelines for the site’s compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Columbia Generating Station has been operating successfully at Hanford since 1984 and providing 1,200 MW of commercial power to the region, Golder notes in the report.
The last application for a commercial nuclear reactor in Washington was for the Skagit/Hanford Nuclear Project proposed by Puget Sound Energy and three other utilities to be located at the Hanford Reservation in 1982. Plans for the reactor were cancelled in 1983.