Email Print

Babcock & Wilcox receives grant to develop small modular reactors

Staff Report
Published Nov. 21, 2012

South Carolina apparently has taken a back seat in the race to develop the country’s first small modular reactor.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Energy Department announced Babcock & Wilcox will receive the first award to design, license and help develop a commercial version of a small modular reactor, or SMR, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel International.

The Energy Department did say it plans to issue a follow-on solicitation open to other companies and manufacturers, focused on furthering small modular reactor efficiency, operations and design.

That could leave the door open for NuScale Power and Holtec International, which have signed agreements to build a small modular reactor at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County.

“We expect it to mean that there will be a new round of proposals to be submitted that will be based on some new criteria,” said Mike McGough, NuScale vice president of business development.

What that new criteria might be is unknown, but McGough said NuScale still intends to pursue SMR development.

“NuScale existed a long time before there was a whisper of federal funding,” McGough said, adding the company has already spent $100 million on developing SMR technology. “We’re going to compete like crazy.”

Back in March, the Energy Department announced plans to award up to $452 million to companies to develop small modular reactor projects. Observers believed DOE would split the money in half, awarding two companies each $226 million to come up with a product.

A fourth company, Westinghouse Electric, which designed the two new reactor units under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, also is competing for the federal money. Westinghouse plans to develop its SMR project at the Callaway Energy Center in central Missouri.

NuScale, based in Corvallis, Ore., and Holtec, headquartered in Marlton, N.J., had lined up support in South Carolina to win the award and develop a commercial version of a small reactor at the Savannah River Site.

South Carolina Electric & Gas has signed a memorandum of understanding with NuScale to work together to deploy the first commercial NuScale small modular reactor unit at the Savannah River Site.

SCE&G said it was interested in SMR technology because the reactor units would be small enough to fit into the footprint of a coal-burning power plant, which may be shut down to meet federal requirements to lower carbon emissions.

Both Holtec and NuScale had signed agreements with NuHub, the commercial nuclear advocacy group in the Midlands, to build a demonstration commercial SMR at the Savannah River Site.

Through a five-year cost-share agreement, the Energy Department will invest up to half of the total project cost, with the project’s industry partners matching this investment by at least one-to-one. The specific total will be negotiated between the Energy Department and Babcock & Wilcox.

The Energy Department investment will help Babcock & Wilcox obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing and achieve commercial operations by 2022.

The agency and the nuclear industry also are banking on export opportunities for small reactor units. The project will be based in Tennessee and will support additional suppliers and operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Small modular reactors — which are approximately one-third the size of current nuclear power plants — have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits.

Small modular reactors can also be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival, reducing both capital costs and construction times. The smaller size also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.

The Energy Department defines SMRs as units that generate less than 300 megawatts.

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.