By Chuck Crumbo
Published July 11, 2012
NuScale Power’s application for a federal grant to build a small modular reactor at the Savannah River Site should be enhanced by its partnership with South Carolina Electric & Gas, one of the company’s executives said.
Mike McGough, NuScale vice president of business development
SCE&G, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, signed a memorandum of understanding in April with NuScale to work together to deploy the first commercial NuScale plant at the Savannah River Site.
The collaborative effort includes NuHub, an economic development consortium based in Columbia.
“If you don’t have the utility you don’t have anything,” McGough said. He added that SCE&G’s experience in operating a commercial reactor at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station enhances NuScale’s application. The utility and state-operated Santee Cooper are building two more units at the nuclear power plant in Fairfield County, about 26 miles northwest of Columbia.
“It’s got the likelihood of being received well,” McGough said of NuScale’s application for the grant.
Corvallis, Ore.-based NuScale, which has designed a reactor small enough to be hauled down the highway on a flatbed truck, is one of four companies seeking grants from the Department of Energy.
The agency is expected in August or September to award up to $452 million for small modular reactor, or SMR, projects. Observers believe DOE will split the money in half, awarding two companies each $226 million.
SCE&G is interested in small reactors because they’ll fit into the footprint of a coal-burning plant, Steve Byrne, COO for SCANA, parent of SCE&G, said recently at a Statehouse news conference called by Gov. Nikki Haley to voice support for the SMR industry.
Instead of putting “very, very expensive” updates on the coal-burning plants, a non-polluting SMR might be a better option, Byrne said. He noted that a coal plant generates about 100 to 150 megawatts — about the same output as a small reactor unit.
The Energy Department defines SMRs as units that generate less than 300 megawatts.
Should NuScale win a grant, the small reactor unit would be built at the Savannah River Site and the company would set up an office nearby to handle licensing, McGough said. The Savannah River Site has identified several locations on the 310-square-mile site that are suitable for a SMR project.
The next step would be opening a building where much of the hardware would be assembled, McGough said. In addition, there would be test facilities where workers would perform test assemblies of the reactor unit parts.
“The logical place you do that is the place where you’re going to build the first one,” McGough added.
After the DOE announces grant winners and a final agreement is worked out, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be asked to certify the reactor’s design.
NuScale’s small reactor design is based on light water reactor technology, McGough said. The company has been developing the technology for more than a decade and has demonstrated its safety and performance at a one-third test facility that’s been in operation since 2003.
NuScale launched the regulatory process with the NRC in 2008. If everything falls in place, McGough said a combined construction and operating license agreement could be issued by the NRC in early 2018.
Small, of course, is a relative term for the reactor. The containment vessel, which would hold the guts of the reactor unit, is 65 feet long and 14 feet, 6 inches wide. McGough estimates that it would weigh about 400 tons when shipped from the plant.
NuScale’s project is scalable. Each reactor unit can generate 45 megawatts and up to 12 units can be co-located at one site.
McGough said the construction phase could employ 800 to 1,000 workers. Once operational, the small reactor plant would have a workforce of about 335 full-time workers, he added.
NuScale has already invested $120 million in the project. If it wins a $226 million grant from the DOE, it would have to match the federal money dollar for dollar. That would be a total of $452 million investment in a unit at the Savannah River site.
Overall, the investment could be between $700 million and $1 billion, he said.
Other companies vying for the DOE grants are Holtec International, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox. Holtec said it would build at the Savannah River Site. Westinghouse would build its small reactor at the Callaway Energy Center in central Missouri while B&W would build at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Clinch River site in eastern Tennessee.
McGough praised South Carolina’s support of the nuclear industry and recent statements by Haley backing SMR projects.
“NuScale has made major commitments to South Carolina, including encouraging our suppliers to developing manufacturing centers and the development of educational and training programs, if we are able to proceed with a project in the state,” he said.
NuScale Power has the financial backing and technical assistance of Fluor Corp., a multibillion-dollar global engineering firm with a history of more than 60 years in the nuclear new-build market. Fluor has designed, built or provided construction support for 20 nuclear units in the U.S., and provides a full range of procurement and other services to nuclear plant operators worldwide. Fluor owns a majority stake in NuScale.