Dominion Invests in GE-Hitachi Nuclear Development of 300-MW SMR

Dominion Energy will provide seed money to further work of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) BWRX-300, a 300-MWe small modular reactor design (SMR).

Dominion has “no plan at this time to build one at any of its commercial nuclear stations,” but the funding could help bring the SMR design closer to commercialization, GEH said in a statement. The companies have not disclosed the amount of funding.

“Engaging customers is critical to product development, and we are thrilled that Dominion will invest in our new SMR to advance its commercialization,” said Jon Ball, executive vice president of Nuclear Plant Projects for GEH. “The BWRX-300 represents a significant improvement in the economics of new nuclear, an imperative for the long-term viability of the industry. It is more efficient, simpler, safer and needs a fraction of the footprint compared to the current fleet of light water reactors.”

An SMR with Potential

The BWRX-300 is GEH’s 10th-generation boiling water reactor design. According to the Wilmington, North Carolina-based nuclear reactor manufacturer and nuclear services provider, the SMR leverages the design and licensing basis of its 1,600-MWe ESBWR design, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certified in September 2014—nearly a decade after GEH filed an application.

According to GEH spokesperson Jonathan Allen, the BWRX-300 SMR concept was developed only last year, “but we are leveraging decades of work that went into the ESBWR,” he told POWER on May 21. GEH estimates that it can leverage up to 80% of the ESBWR design control document and start the licensing process “once a customer is ready to move forward,” he said. 

SMRs have received significant attention over the past decade, yet no companies touting SMR technology has built a commercial unit in the U.S. NuScale Power’s design appears to be the farthest along. That company submitted an application to certify its design to the NRC in December 2016. NuScale expects the NRC to complete the review and approve the design by September 2020. Under a preliminary agreement with NuScale, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems could then build a plant featuring SMRs at the Idaho National Laboratory site. 

In tandem, Holtec International is acting to speed up development and licensing efforts for its SMR-160 design, a single-loop, 160-MWe pressurized water reactor based on existing light water technologies. In February, Holtec said it would collaborate with GEH and Global Nuclear Fuel to advance the SMR-160. GEH, meanwhile, is also developing a fourth-generation sodium-cooled fast SMR, which it calls “PRISM.” In June 2017, GEH, Exelon Generation, High Bridge Associates, and AECOM subsidiary URS Nuclear said they are collaborating to “potentially” seek NRC certification for the design. 

Though Exelon and Dominion are prominently backing development of SMRs, no generators appear to have active plans that include SMRs in future resource plans. While the NRC has accepted the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) early site permit application for potential construction and operation of multiple SMR units at the Clinch River Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a TVA official told POWER in March that SMRs are “moderately viable,” but the federal company doesn’t plan to construct one in the next 10 to 20 years.

According to Dominion’s Chief Nuclear Officer Dan Stoddard, the investment in the SMR technology reflects the company’s view that nuclear energy is a source of “clean, reliable, and cost-effective supply of electricity to meet the needs of a growing economy.” On Monday, he added: “We also believe the innovations GE Hitachi is pursuing with the BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor have the potential to make it a strong competitor in the marketplace. Our view is that a modest investment now to support further development of this technology is in the interest of both companies.”

Dominion Banks on Nuclear

Dominion’s and GEH’s association spans more than a decade. Dominion in 2007 submitted a combined construction and operating license (COL) application to the NRC to add a new GEH ESBWR to its two-unit North Anna nuclear site near Mineral, Virginia. While the NRC approved the COL in June 2017, Dominion hasn’t yet announced that it will proceed with the project. It noted on its website, however, that GEH and Fluor have teamed on the possible project, and that Dominion would sign a fully negotiated engineering, procurement, and construction contract with the consortium if the utility decides to build the new unit.

For now, Dominion operates two other nuclear units, along with North Anna: the 2,111-MW Millstone Power Station in Connecticut and the 1,676-MW Surry Nuclear Power Station in Virginia. The companyrecently notified the NRC of its intent to relicense North Anna and Surry for additional 20-year terms, effectively extending their operating lives up to 80 years. The six units operated at a capacity factor of 98.5% in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, this February, Connecticut regulators determined they would proceed with a solicitation for bids for new and existing carbon-free resources that includes the Millstone Power Station, dealing Dominion a victory and ending a  controversial two-year-long campaignit waged to secure state backing for the nuclear plant.

Dominion in late April reported first-quarter operating earnings of $741 million, which beat analyst expectations, buoyed in part by the Millstone designation. In an earnings call, Dominion officials noted that the Connecticut request for proposals was issued on May 1 and responses are expected in September.

“Simultaneously, Millstone has the opportunity to participate in a proceeding determining that it is an at-risk resource. That designation would mean that Millstone’s bid will be judged on price and non-price attributes such as carbon reduction, fuel diversity, economic impacts etc.,” said Dominion Chairman, President, and CEO Thomas Farrell II. “Dominion plans to request at-risk designation and looks forward to submitting a competitive bid to help Connecticut meet its energy and environmental goals while also stabilizing Millstone’s revenue.”

On May 17, meanwhile, Dominion also signed a multimillion-dollar contract with Framatome, formerly AREVA, to provide steam generator services for its entire nuclear reactor fleet.

 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)

Editor’s note: Updated on May 22 with details about GEH’s BWRX-300 concept.