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S.C. back in the hunt for developing small modular reactors

By Chuck Crumbo
Published March 13, 2013

A new funding opportunity for small modular reactors has breathed life into efforts to develop and build a unit in South Carolina.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Monday that a portion of a $452 million grant is being offered to the U.S. nuclear industry to build and “certify innovative small modular nuclear reactors,” commonly referred to as SMRs.

“Building off the cost-share agreement announced in November 2012, this follow-on solicitation is open to other companies and manufacturers and is focused on furthering small modular reactor efficiency, operations and design,” the agency said.

The announcement of a second funding opportunity sends a signal that the Energy Department — which is in the process of changing secretaries — and the Obama administration remain committed to developing non-carbon emitting power sources and to the SMR program, said Mike McGough, vice president of business development at NuScale Power.

“It’s a very important step,” McGough said. “In spite of the turbulence and sequestration, the SMR program is continuing.”

Back in November, the Energy Department announced that Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox would receive the first award to design, license and help develop a commercial version of a small modular reactor in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel International.

NuScale, based in Corvallis, Ore., had sought a portion of the grant along with two other companies. Both NuScale and one of its competitors that lost in the first round of funding, Holtec International of Marlton, N.J., have agreements to develop and build a small reactor at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County.

Denver-based Gen4 Energy Co., formerly known as Hyperion Power Generation, also has a SMR development agreement with the Aiken facility. Gen4 did not apply for the federal grant money.

News of a second round of SMR funding was welcomed by Sonny White, president of Midlands Technical College and co-chairman of NuHub, the commercial nuclear advocacy group in the Midlands.

“We’re excited in South Carolina to be a leader in nuclear energy,” White said. “We think that this is the next generation of what’s going to happen — this is going to be an opportunity for not just the United States, but an opportunity for a state like ours.”

Developing small modular reactors could lead to the creation of good-paying jobs because the units will be designed to be made in a factory, not built on-site, White said.

“Once this becomes a reality, then the ability to manufacture these in a plant — with anywhere from $10 billion to $50 billion worth of sales — that’s huge for our state,” White said.

In announcing the funding opportunity, Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted the White House “is committed to speeding the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. ... The funding opportunity announced today is focused on bringing innovative small modular reactors to market, creating new jobs and businesses in the United States.”

The Energy Department said it will solicit proposals for cost-shared SMR projects that could possibly be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in commercial operation in 2025.

The SMR proposals also would have to offer “innovative and effective solutions for enhanced safety, operations and performance.”

At least 50% of the SMR project has to be funded by private industry, the Energy Department added.

Small modular units are about one-third the size of current nuclear power reactors, generating no more than 300 megawatts. The units have to be compact, scalable and provide a number of safety, construction and economic benefits.

The Energy Department added that it favors designs that can be made in factories and hauled to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.

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Babcock & Wilcox receives grant to develop small modular reactors

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