Babcock & Wilcox Co. (B&W) entered the race to commercialize small-nuclear reactors today, unveiling the mPower, a modular 125-MW Generation III nuclear reactor that can be scaled to produce up to 750 MW.
The mPower reactor is an advanced light water reactor (ALWR) with passive safety systems, in which the core and helical steam generators are contained within a below-ground containment structure. It uses standard pressurized water reactor (PWR) fuel and is designed to operate on a five-year cycle between refuelings. The reactor is expected to have a 60-year life.

 “This optimized ALWR represents true Generation III++ nuclear technology that B&W believes can be certified, manufactured and operated within today’s existing U.S. regulatory, industrial supply chain and utility operational infrastructure,” the McDermott Lynchburg, Va., company said in a press release.

The reactor was designed to meet the “emerging needs of the commercial nuclear renaissance.” The scalable nature of the nuclear plants built around the mPower reactor could provide “practical” power increments of 125 MW to meet local energy needs within power grid and plant site constraints, B&W said.

B&W, a McDermott International subsidiary, has formed a new business unit, B&W Modular Nuclear Energy, to spearhead the development, licensing, and delivery of the mPower reactor. It has also notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of its intent to submit an application for design certification of the reactor in 2011.

Potential customers of the reactor include the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority, which has issued a letter of intent and begun the process of evaluating a potential lead plant site for the mPower reactor. The public utility and a consortium of regional municipal and cooperative utilities have also signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the construction of a fleet of mPower reactors, B&W said.

The mPower will join a list of companies that are vying to be the first to commercialize small light water reactors. Among these are the South African–developed Pebble Bed Modular Reactor; Toshiba Corp.’s Toshiba 4S reactor, Hyperion Power’s hydride reactor, and NuScale Power’s modular light water reactor.

Toshiba’s 4S reactor will likely be the first commercially available mini-nuke, according to the NRC, which has said Toshiba is all set to submit a design approval as early as next year. That review should be complete by 2013, the agency expects.

Sources: Babcock & Wilcox, POWER, NRC