NuScale Triumphs in Second DOE SMR Funding Contest

NuScale Power is the winner of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) March 2013–announced funding opportunity to help design, certify, and commercialize small modular reactors (SMRs) in the U.S. 

The DOE’s long-awaited second award announcement means the government will invest up to half of the total project cost required to help NuScale Power’s 45-MWe SMR design achieve commercial operation by around 2025.

The specific total has yet to be negotiated between the DOE and NuScale, the DOE said, though it revealed that funding will be “derived from the from the total $452 million identified for the Department’s Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support program.” NuScale said in a statement, however, that the award will be disbursed over five years and includes $226 million in funding.

A Novel Reactor

The award is a substantial endorsement of the design that evolved in part from research more than a decade ago at Oregon State University.

NuScale’s SMR is a scalable 45-MWe (165-MWt) pressurized water reactor module that includes a combined containment vessel and reactor system and designated turbine-generator set. It uses natural circulation and convection cooling; it has no AC or DC power, no external water, and it  can be shut down without operator action. Its only moving parts are its control rod drives. The company says that a power plant can include as many as 12 NuScale modules for production capacity of as much as 540 MW. For a detailed look at the SMR technology, see “NuScale Puts Single-Minded Focus on Small Modular Reactor” in POWER‘s October 2013 issue.

Despite almost sinking into bankruptcy about three years ago—Fluor Corp. became NuScale Power’s majority investor when it purchased 55% of the company in October 2011 for $30 million and restored the financially ailing firm—NuScale already has a number of promising ventures lined up. One involves a potential six- to 12-module plant demonstration, possibly at the Idaho National Laboratory, as part of the Western Initiative for Nuclear (WIN). It also has teaming agreements with Energy Northwest in Washington State and and the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems. Earlier this year, Energy Northwest—a municipal corporation with 27 public power member utility members—said that if NuScale receives federal development funding, “Energy Northwest will have first right of offer to operate such a project and by doing so, become one of the industry experts for small modular reactor operation.”


A Cut-Throat Competition


Corvallis, Ore.–based NuScale contended for the DOE’s second SMR funding opportunity along with Westinghouse Electric, based in Pittsburgh, Pa., for its 225-MW Westinghouse SMR and Holtec International, based in Marlton, N.J., for its 160-MW SMR design. As well as Fluor and Energy Northwest, NuScale’s application backers included global nuclear heavyweight Rolls-Royce.

Westinghouse, a Toshiba company, is backed by China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., while Holtec’s supporters include New Jersey power generator PSEG Power and URS Nuclear. California-based General Atomics joined the SMR funding contest later in August, partnering with CB&I and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to design and develop its school bus–sized 500-MWt Energy Multiplier Module SMR.

NuScale noted in a statement that it was the only U.S.-based company established solely for the commercialization of its SMR. It’s technology also met the DOE’s selection criteria, which focused on reactor technologies that have unique and innovative safety features to mitigate the consequence of severe natural events similar to those at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi, it said.

“Natural forces of physics—gravity, convection, and conduction—are used for normal operations and safe shutdown. This eliminates many of the large and complex systems (e.g., pumps, motors, valves, piping) found in today’s nuclear power plants and other SMR designs. As a result, the NuScale plant is safe, simpler, and less expensive to build and operate.”

However, the company and its backers must now tackle remaining funding hurdles as NuScale will be required to match the federal funds used to design, engineer, test, and certify the “first-of-a-kind” SMR design. According to Fluor, that is ongoing. Both Fluor and NuScale “continue to be approached by numerous entities, and are evaluating potential investors, manufacturers and other supply chain partners for future potential SMR development efforts,” the company said.

First Award Winner B&W Seeks More Funding, Partners

The DOE’s first cost-share funding award to accelerate commercialization of an SMR design that targets a 2022 deployment date went to Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) for its mPower SMR technology. As nuclear industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute noted, “the DOE’s first solicitation focused on small reactor designs similar to certified large reactors that had the potential to be brought quickly to design certification and licensing.” The 180-MW B&W mPower SMR is based on advanced integral pressurized water reactor technology which incorporates passive safety protection systems within a fully underground containment structure.

Under that agreement, the DOE will share costs on the design, certification, and licensing of the B&W mPower design, with B&W providing at least 50% of the total cost. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to deploy two 180-MW SMR units for commercial operation in Roane County, Tenn., by 2021, and anticipates having as many as six mPower units at that site.

The DOE had originally announced that it would award $450 million to one or two designs over five years to assist with licensing and technical support. However, the exact level of funding to B&W has not been disclosed, though the company has since said that the cost-share award will enable it to accelerate research and development spending to meet program milestones and allow it to limit net spending to between $85 million and $95 million in 2013 alone. In November, the company revealed it had invested more than $360 million in the mPower program.

Now, B&W and its joint venture partner Bechtel (which formed Generation mPower  LLC in 2010) are looking for other potential sources of government funding for the fledgling technology as well as new investors and possible new partners. Negotiating a deal with new partners is complex because of issues surrounding scope, risk, and liability, as B&W CEO and president E. James Ferland said in August, however. “I would like to get a deal signed in 2013, if we could. I think it’s probably going to take us into 2014 to get that done,” he said.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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