what’s behind the headline, via the AP:
The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that it has awarded an Oregon company a grant to help it design and obtain federal approval for a kind of nuclear power plant - small modular units that can be built in a factory and shipped to installation sites.
That Oregon company is NuScale, a startup company with strong ties to Oregon State University The first DOE award went to the mPower small modular reactor design being developed by long-established Babcock & Wilcox, a company that has been building small reactors for the U.S. Navy for decades. NuScale’s technology approach is unique and allows capacity additions in 45 megawatt increments. In addition, its safety features directly address the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s a pressurized water reactor – as is mPower – with a lot of new ideas regarding safety.
[NuScale offers] a smaller, scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology with natural safety features which enable it to safely shut down and self-cool, with no operator action, no AC or DC power, and no external water. Each NuScale Power Module is 45 MW and has a fully integrated, factory-built containment and reactor pressure vessel.
NuScale lists its attributes:
- The ability to safely shut down and self-cool, indefinitely, with no operator action, AC or DC power, and no additional water, with NuScale's Triple Crown for nuclear plant safety™ .
- Seven barriers, between the nuclear fuel and the local community and environment, as compared to three for commercial plants currently in construction and operation.
- A complete containment and reactor vessel module that can be shipped in segments, by rail, truck, or barge, for quick installation at the plant site.
- Below grade operating bays for the NuScale Power Modules that are enclosed in an aircraft-impact-resistant seismic Category 1 reactor building.
- Natural circulation, coolant flow residual heat removal and emergency core cooling systems are powered by natural forces, gravity.
- A common pool that provides seismic dampening and radiation shielding for the NuScale Power Module.
- A 60-year plant life
- A projected capacity factor of >95%
Much of this describes the potential benefits of small reactors in general. But some of it, especially its approach to safety, leverages a patent portfolio NuScale has been building. I asked Paul Genoa, NEI’s senior director for policy development, about this because I wasn’t quite sure how to explain NuScale’s approach to safety in relation to the industry as a whole.
“Just to be clear,” Genoa said, “all U.S. nuclear facilities exceed the stringent safety regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, just like the new Westinghouse AP-1000 plants under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, these new small reactor designs being supported by DOE are increasingly using innovative and elegant approaches to ensuring that safety.”
So there you go.
NEI offers a very good description of the implications of the DOE award:
DOE’s selection criteria focused on reactor technologies that have unique and innovative safety features to mitigate the consequences of severe natural events similar to those at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. NuScale’s press statement noted that its design’s “unique and proprietary break-through technology” using natural forces of gravity, convection and conduction will allow “safe and simpler operations and safe shutdown.”
And why this is different from the B&W award:
By contrast, 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. Late last year DOE selected a team consisting of Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel International and Tennessee Valley Authority to deploy B&W’s 180-megawatt mPower small reactor design by 2022.
You’ll notice the team aspect of the mPower project. That’s true of NuScale, too: it is working with Rolls-Royce (yes, the car people, but they also produce small reactors for the British Navy-see the link), Fluor and Energy Northwest.
More from the AP, with some key dates moving forward:
The company hopes to have the design certified by 2019 and the first commercially operational project working by 2023 at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, [NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Michael] McGough said.
This is spectacular news. We’ve been hearing about small reactors for years. Now, here they are.