SMR Technology Contest Gets New Player

Joining the growing list of major small modular reactor (SMR) technology developers is California-based General Atomics, which says its patented Energy Multiplier Module, EM2, is one of the “most advanced high-performance reactors in the world.”

The company has partnered with CB&I and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to design and develop the school bus–sized reactor that it says produces 500 MWt and is 53% efficient. The helium-cooled fast-neutron high-temperature reactor operates at 850C and would be fueled with 20 metric tons of used pressurized water reactor fuel or depleted uranium in addition to 22 metric tons of enriched uranium (Figure 5).

5. New kid on the block. The Energy Multiplier Module being developed by San Diego–based General Atomics is a small modular reactor that is helium cooled and operates at temperatures of 850C. It incorporates a truck-transportable high-speed gas turbine generator. Courtesy: General Atomics

The EM2’s features include running 30 years without refueling (compared to 18 months for current light water reactors), requiring no cooling water, and siting flexibility. It also incorporates a truck-transportable high-speed gas turbine generator, which means “lower up front capital costs for utilities, as well as lower electricity costs for consumers,” the company says. EM2 is also designed to provide three times the energy per pound of fuel compared to current technology and reduce waste by 80% utilizing just a single pass through the fuel cycle.

General Atomics recently threw in its bid for the second round of Department of Energy (DOE) funding through a cost-shared partnership for up to two SMR designs. At least three other companies are vying for the opportunity that could accelerate commercialization of an SMR design by 2022: NuScale Power of Corvallis, Ore. (see the article on that technology in this issue); Westinghouse Electric, based in Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Holtec International, based in Marlton, N.J. An announcement from the DOE is expected in September.

The first cost-share funding award went to Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) for its mPower SMR technology. The exact level of funding to B&W has not been disclosed, though that 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.