Posted by Mark Halper

NuScale OnTruck ChenectedAichieOrg

Alternative nuclear rolled ahead a bit this week, as the U.S. DOE agreed to fund NuScale’s small modular reactor, transportable on the back of a truck.

The U.S. Department of Energy has taken another “small” step toward shaking the nuclear industry out of its uninventive ways and towards innovative reactors that augur lower costs and improved operations and safety for a low CO2 future: It has granted up to $226 million in funding to an Oregon startup that is developing a “small modular reactor.”

The award to Corvallis, Oregon-based NuScale Power marks the second tranche of a $452 million program that DOE announced in March 2012. It comes a year after DOE’s first grant to North Carolina-based Babcock & Wilcox. That grant was reported at up to $225 million at the time, although DOE told me today that it has so far committed $101 million to the five-year B&W project through March 2014 and that it is currently reviewing the release of additional funds.

“Small modular reactors represent a new generation of safe, reliable, low-carbon nuclear energy technology,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in announcing the award to NuScale. “The Energy Department is committed to strengthening nuclear energy’s continuing important role in America’s low carbon future.”

SHRINKING CONVENTION

Like B&W, the NuScale design calls for a scaled-down conventional reactor, fueled by solid uranium, cooled by ordinary water and operated in a pressurized environment. By virtue of its smaller size, the NuScale “Integral Pressurized Water Reactor” (IPWR) portends lower costs because in principle it could be factory-built in more of an assembly line manner than could large conventional reactors; the idea is to ship them to a site via truck, rail or barge for final assembly. The “integral” design fits a reactor and a steam generator in an 80-foot by 15-foot cylinder.

The small size would also allow users such as utilities to purchase new reactors in less expensive increments rather than paying billions of dollars up front for conventionally sized reactors, which reach well over a gigawatt in electrical capacity. At 45 megawatts electric, the NuScale reactor provides about 3 percent the output of a 1.3-GW reactor. NuScale’s “modular” design permits up to 12 of the pressurized water reactors in a plant, for a total capacity of 540 MW.

NuScale, founded in 2007, has designed the IPWR to sit underground, thus protecting it from attack. The IPWR deploys a “passive cooling” system that would release a pool of water from above the reactor in the event of an emergency, rather than rely on pumps to circulate water (failed auxiliary electricity systems knocked out cooling at Japan’s Fukushima reactor, leading to meltdowns there).

EYEING IDAHO

NuScale partner Energy Northwest, a Richland, Wash. company that produces power for utilities, said that NuScale could develop a commercial six-to-12-reactor plant on the site of Idaho National Laboratory by 2024, which Energy Northwest would have the right to operate. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a cooperative of government entities that pools electrical power resources, is also part of the scheme.

U.K. engineering stalwart Rolls Royce is also part of the NuScale small modular project. NuScale is majority owned by $27.6 billion engineering company Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

The presence of several companies in the NuScale project echoes the B&W small modular reactor venture which won the first tranche of DOE’s $452 million in SMR funding. B&W is working with U.S. construction firm Bechtel, and with federal power provider Tennessee Valley Authority. They hope to deploy four 180-MW reactors at TVA’s Clinch River, Tennessee site, via a joint venture called Generation mPower that is 90 percent owned by B&W and 10 percent by Bechtel.

That project took a peculiar turn recently, when B&W said it plans to sell 70 percent of its interest in mPower – including intellectual property.

A DOE spokeswoman said that DOE has so far committed $101 million to B&W through March, 2014. Possible further funding is currently under review, she said. B&W’s five-year federal funding period began in December, 2012. If DOE released more funds, the total would not exceed $226 million, the same five-year cap on the NuScale funding, which runs through Dec. 2018. In both cases, DOE would also be limited to funding no more than half of project costs, the spokeswoman said. She added that there will be no more grants under the $452 million Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

CAN’T TAKE THE HEAT

While the DOE grant helps to push U.S. nuclear in a new direction of smaller and less expensive reactors, it stopped short of endorsing altogether new reactor designs that would support much higher operating temperatures.

These so-called “fourth generation reactors” include liquid fuel reactors known as molten salt reactors, as well as solid fuel reactors using “pebble bed” and “prismatic” fuel structures rather than conventional rods.  They would provide many additional advantages. For instance, they typically operate in unpressurized environments, which is a safety benefit over today’s pressurized reactors. They tend to leave less long-lived waste.

At higher temperatures they also generate electricity more efficiently, which lowers generating costs and would help nuclear compete in a market where natural gas prices are currently low. Unlike natural gas generation, nuclear power generation is carbon free, and the nuclear lifecycle is low-carbon.

And as Secretary Moniz himself noted last month, high temperature reactors could serve as sources of low-carbon heat for industrial processes and thus expand nuclear power beyond its role of generating electricity.

A number of high temperature reactor developers vied for the DOE award that went to NuScale, including San Diego’s General Atomics, and X-Energy Inc., a Greenbelt, Maryland-based company that is developing a pebble bed reactor based on older South Africa designs.

Stay tuned to the Weinberg site as we delve into some of these alternative reactor designs in our upcoming blog posts.

Photo is from NuScale via ChenectedAiche

Comments

  1. SHansen says:

    Many of you now know that the RTMSR Reactor which is truly the only real portable reactor that is a 100% Molten Salt Reactor has been designed. This new MSR does not have to placed in the dirt or be confined to a concrete building and is a 100% air cooled reactor which was the vision Professor Edward Teller seen as I did and its now come from paper drawings to a mock cardboard table top Model to a 3D Copier Model which shows that yes these reactors can become an assembly line built reactor. Me personally I,m not happy with the NRC & DOE having the mindset to push approval out of real serious design MSRs like the RTMSR Reactor is until the year 2022 when the sister reactor like the RTMSR Reactor the FUJI Reactor in Japan worked and worked well as many of you know in the Nuclear Industry is wrong to hold the RTMSR Reactor as us Scientists would say Technology Hostage. This has to come to an end this head in the sand or we are going nowhere my fellow reactor fellows
    and those that of you that know me understand just how aggressive I take the development of energy technologies and its serious very serious. I’m ready to build the RTMSR Reactor not talk about it and
    the NRC and DOE need to get up to speed or get out of the way. MSRs have no business in the 1954
    Atomic Energy Act other than the watchful eye of the uses of U-232 U-233 and the kicker element U-235 mixed together these are it. The RTMSR Reactor is Nuclear Uranium Fuel Rod Pellet Eater and will
    burn up the nasty toxic waste in the RTMSR Reactor as fuel and as you know the World has plenty of toxic dumps to choose from. The RTMSR Reactor is ready now to get underway but is the World ready
    for reactors like the RTMSR Reactor and anothers like the MIT WAMSR which are both Nuclear Waste Eaters only time will tell. Its time to get very serious about energy development but we all have to get
    on the page be it Public & Government we all have a say in what needs to change or we become stalled as a society on clean energy technologies that already have been proven to work. The Best. SHansen

Leave a Reply

Sign up for Weinberg Newsletter
* = required field

I strongly support the Alvin Weinberg Foundation’s vital work to raise awareness of the urgent need for next-generation nuclear power to combat climate change and to provide clean energy for the future. — Professor James Hansen

@thorium_wf

If #China National #Nuclear Corporation is building a 10MW prototype, China may be going for #thorium #MSR in a big way! 2015, year of MSR?
- Friday Dec 19 - 6:06pm

Breaking news: China Natl #Nuclear Corp has signed agreement w/ Shanghai CAS to design, develop & plan to build a 10MW Molten Salt Reactor!
- Friday Dec 19 - 5:59pm

Recent Posts

China’s Next Generation Nuclear Ambitions

by Neil Endicott (November 25th, 2014)

The UK’s Forgotten Molten Salt Reactor Programme

by Neil Endicott (November 13th, 2014)

Alvin Weinberg Foundation’s letter published in the Daily Telegraph!

by David Martin (October 1st, 2014)

Nuclear new build and the challenges of climate change

by Laurence Watson (September 26th, 2014)

Posts Archive

Categories

  • Economics (66)
  • Efficiency (49)
  • Proliferation (31)
  • Safety (54)
  • Security (13)
  • Uncategorized (22)
  • Waste (50)
  • © The Alvin Weinberg Foundation 2014
    The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is a registered UK charity. Charity number: 1155255
    The Alvin Weinberg Foundation web site uses cookies to record visitor patterns.
    Read our data protection policy

    Design by Tauri-tec Ltd and the Alvin Weinberg Foundation