NuScale Boosts SMR Capacity, Making it Cost Competitive with Other Technologies

Optimization through advanced testing and modeling tools will increase NuScale Power’s small modular reactor (SMR) capacity by 20%, which could make it “even more competitive with other electricity generation sources,” the Portland, Oregon, company announced on June 6.

The breakthrough would boost the power capacity of a 12-module SMR plant currently planned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) from 600 MWe to 720 MWe. NuScale told POWER that it achieved the capacity increase following hardware tests that cost more than $70 million, including comprehensive testing of the fuel and helical coil steam generators.

“The data obtained in these test programs has been used to validate and refine the predictive capability of our advanced thermal hydraulic safety analysis computer codes,” it said. “Based on the refined state-of-the-art computer modeling now available, NuScale was able to demonstrate a 20% power increase while fully satisfying design and regulatory requirements.”

A Big LCOE Acheivement

The power uprate to 720 MWe will effectively lower the cost of the facility from an expected $5,000/kWh to about $4,200/kWh with a “very minimal change in capital costs,” the company said. It would also drop NuScale’s levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) by up to 18%, moving NuScale toward meeting a $65/MWh LCOE target it has for UAMPS, its first customer. That would make it competitive with several new generation resources entering service in 2022, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Estimated levelized cost of electricity (capacity-weighted average) for new generation resouces entering service in 2022 (2017 $/MWh). Source: EIA, March 2018

Estimated levelized cost of electricity (capacity-weighted average) for new generation resouces entering service in 2022 (2017 $/MWh). Source: EIA, March 2018

UAMPS, which has a preliminary agreement with NuScale to build a 12-module SMR facility at an Idaho National Laboratory site, plans to commence site preparation for the project in 2021. NuScale told POWER that first safety-related concrete pour will begin in 2023, and the first module could be operational by 2026. The full 12-module plant will be operational by 2027. “Construction and commissioning of future plants will take less time,” it noted.

UAMPS expressed optimism about the power uprate. “This new development is yet another way NuScale is changing the SMR game and pioneering this technology in the United States,” said UAMPS CEO Doug Hunter on June 6. “This substantial reduction in cost per kilowatt is not only incredibly good news for the country’s first SMR plant, which we are thrilled to be deploying, but also because it will increase the value of our plant over time.”

A Boost for SMR Technology

SMRs have received significant attention over the past decade, yet no companies touting SMR technology have built a commercial unit in the U.S. NuScale Power’s design appears to be the furthest along. The company submitted an application to certify its design to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in December 2016, and NuScale expects the NRC will complete the review and approve the Design Certification Application (DCA) by September 2020. The NRC recently completed its Phase 1 review of NuScale’s DCA, which was “the most rigorous of the remaining five phases combined and resulted in just one-third the average number of requests for additional information compared to other applicants, demonstrating the simplicity of NuScale’s SMR design and the quality of its application,” the company said.

NuScale said the power uprate will be reviewed separately but is not expected to impact the NRC’s current design review of NuScale’s SMR or the scheduled September 2020 approval date of the DCA. “Since NuScale has made this determination before any plant construction or equipment manufacture, UAMPS will reap the benefit of this optimization without licensing or construction delays,” it said.

On the wider SMR front in the U.S., 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 GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (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. This May, GEH also announced that Dominion Energy would provide seed money to further work of its BWRX-300, a 300-MWe SMR design.

NuScale on Wednesday noted that the NRC in January agreed that the company’s design approach requires no safety-related power to safely shut down. “No operating nuclear plant in the U.S. can make that claim,” it said.

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

Editor’s note: Updated on June 6 to add details about LCOE costs, how the update was achieved