James Conca, Forbes
May 15, 2018,06:00am EDT
NRC just completed their Phase 1 review of NuScale’s Small Modular Nuclear Reactor. The small size… [+]
NuScale Power is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expected.
Two weeks ago, NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor design completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application (DCA) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined.
The NRC’s review of NuScale’s DCA only began in March 2017 and the NRC’s final report approving the design is expected to be complete by September 2020. NuScale is the first and only SMR to ever undergo an NRC review. After sailing through Phase 1 so quickly, the company really is on track to build the first SMR in America within the next few years.
The first customer is certainly ready. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) will own the first NuScale plant, a 12-module SMR, and place it at the Idaho National Laboratory. It will be operated by the experienced nuclear operator Energy Northwest. This first application will take advantage of the SMR’s specific ability to completely load-follow UAMPS wind farms.
‘We are thankful for the rigorous review of our revolutionary nuclear design and greatly appreciate the government recognizing the importance of furthering NuScale’s advancement,’ said NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins. ‘Our technology means significant economic and job benefits for the country and it’s positioned to revitalize the domestic nuclear industry by virtue of NuScale’s affordable, flexible, and safe solution to providing zero-carbon energy.’
NuScale’s reactor is also America’s best chance to compete in the global SMR market as it gets started, and puts the U.S. on a path to beat foreign competitors like Argentina, China, Russia and South Korea who are developing their own SMR designs. Conservative estimates predict between 55 and 75 GW of electricity will come from operating SMRs around the world by 2035, the equivalent of more than 1,000 NuScale Power Modules, and will bring the market up towards a trillion dollars.
And America should lead that effort.
The U.S. Department of Energy agrees and, on April 27th, awarded NuScale Power $40 million in cost-sharing financial assistance to support bringing this SMR to market. NuScale is the only SMR selected for this award with a solid plan, backed up by design, testing, licensing, and commercialization sufficiently substantive to achieve commercial operations in the 2020s.
SMR developers expect modular designs and construction processes will generate economies of series and open up multiple supply opportunities. NuScale has estimated its first plant will cost just under $3 billion to build, giving an overnight capital cost of $5,078/kWe.
But the real power of SMRs are the fact that they can’t melt down. This is a big deal. It means the reactor just won’t melt down or otherwise cause any of the nightmares people think about when imagining the worse for nuclear power.
It just shuts down and cools off.
The brain-child of Dr. Jose Reyes, NuScale’s Chief Technology Officer and nuclear engineering professor emeritus at Oregon State University, this modular reactor takes advantage of the small in small modular. The small size and large surface area-to-volume ratio of NuScale’s reactor core, that sits below ground in a super seismic-resistant heat sink, allows natural processes to cool it indefinitely in the case of complete power blackout.
No humans or computers are needed to intervene, no AC or DC power, no pumps, and no additional water for cooling.
The first Small Modular Reactor company to file a license application to NRC, NuScale’s Power Module… [+]
A couple of additional features are: 1) no one can hack this reactor and 2) refueling of this reactor does not require the nuclear plant to shut down.
The components of the NuScale reactor can all be manufactured in a factory prior to shipping and assembly at the site, removing a major cost issue with building new nuclear plants. The reactor vessels and other large components can be manufactured with medium-sized forges, something we still have here in the United States. Traditional large reactors need extremely large forging facilities, of which only a few exist in the world – none in America.
Traditional nuclear reactors are between about 600 and 1,200 MW, but these small power modules are about 50 MW each and 12 of them can be put together to make a power plant up to 600 MW – a 12-pack.
These modules use standard 17×17 PWR fuel assemblies, also making them cost-effective, at only half the height, with an average U-235 enrichment of 3.8%. A single NuScale nuclear power module is 76-feet tall and 15-feet in diameter, and would sit in a plant covering less than a tenth of a square mile or about 60 acres.
In comparison, it takes at least 130,000 acres, or about 200 square miles, of wind farms to produce the same amount of energy as one NuScale 12-pack is designed to.
These innovative designs bring the total life-cycle cost to produce electricity with this SMR to below that of most other energy sources, just slightly above hydro and natural gas. This SMR can also be constructed in about half the time of traditional nuclear plants.
It‘s possible to see all of the application documents for the NuScale design at NRC, and one can see the actual criteria for the DOE award as well, noting that DOE wanted projects focused on the development of ‘industry-driven reactor designs and accompanying technologies with high potential to advance nuclear power in the USA.’
NuScale is headquartered in Portland, Oregon and has offices in Corvallis, Or, Rockville, Md, Charlotte, N.C., Richland, WA, Arlington, Va., and London, UK.