DOE Invests in Small Modular Nuclear reactor

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced, in December 2013, an award to NuScale Power LLC to support the design, certification and commercialization of small modular nuclear reactors in the United States. NuScale Power is headquartered in Portland, OR. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated: “Small modular reactors represent a new generation of safe, reliable, low carbon nuclear energy technology and provide a strong opportunity for America to lead this emerging global industry. The Energy department is committed to strengthening nuclear energy’s continuing important role in America’s low carbon future. New technologies, like small modular reactors, will help ensure our continued leadership in the safe, secure and efficient use of nuclear power worldwide.” The DOE investment will help NuScale obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission design certification and achieve commercial operation around 2025. The cost sharing DOE/NuScale effort will provide innovative and effective solutions for enhanced reactor safety, operations and performance, ref.1.

Small modular nuclear reactors are not new. Operating, since 1976, are four 62 MWt (thermal) units in a remote corner of Siberia. They have performed well and much more cheaply than fossil fuel alternatives in the arctic region, ref. 2. Other countries involved with the development and deployment of small nuclear reactors include: Canada, China, South Korea, South Africa, Pakistan (300 MWe, in operation), India (220 MWe, in operation) and Japan. With this worldwide competition it is difficult to believe, at this late stage of U.S. development, the truthfulness of the DOE Secretary’s statement, “… (we) have a strong opportunity for America to lead this emerging global industry.”

NuScale plans to fabricate and modularize a majority of the components in a factory setting and then ship the module to the plant site. The module will be capable of generating 45 MWe. The smaller size is expected to provide reduced capital cost and construction time when compared to the larger nuclear electric plants being constructed now. For locations that have growing electrical demands additional modular units can easily be installed. NuScale has initiated a multi-western state collaboration to study the demonstration and deployment of a multi-module small nuclear reactor. These small reactors will provide safe, clean, reliable and economical baseline electricity. The western states involved in the development effort with NuScale Power are: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona, ref.3.

After submitting proposals to the DOE, Westinghouse was not selected to continue their efforts to develop their small nuclear reactor design. In January 2014 Westinghouse announced that it was suspending work on its small modular reactors. Danny Roderick, CEO of the Westinghouse Cranberry-based nuclear firm, stated: “The problem I have with small modular reactors is not the technology, it’s not the deployment- its that there’s no customers. The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market. Unless you’re going to to build 30 to 50 of them, you’re not going to make your money back.”, ref. 4.

For several decades the United States Navy has held a commanding lead on the design, fabrication, installation and safe operation of small nuclear reactors for its ships. This administration has missed the opportunity to transfer the Navy’s nuclear power plant knowledge to the commercial sector; for the development of peaceful nuclear generation of clean, plentiful and safe electricity. The administration has chosen to advocate wind and solar sources for the production of energy at the expense of delaying a viable energy plan to support nuclear energy. It is tragic to learn that the DOE will not have a demonstration reactor until 2025 (11 more years!). They have convinced a large majority of the American public that renewable energy can replace our coal fired electric plants. As the promises for Obma-care have unraveled, the promises made for renewable energy are unraveling. For example, our renewable energy production is uneconomical and inadequate to replace the electricity production of our coal fired plants. As a result the reliability of electric grid will be in jeopardy when 20% of our coal fired electric plants are shutdown in mid 2015. The administration should stop spending our tax dollars to subsidize renewable energy. The administration needs to educate the American public on the factual attributes of nuclear energy as a safe, reliable, baseline and a clean source of electricity. Why doesn’t the administration follow the recommendations of our experts, in the field of energy, and advocate nuclear energy? The government can easily identify customers, needing small nuclear reactors, through tax incentives, grants and investment and changing laws/regulations that advocate wind and solar energy.

Ref. 1 “Energy Department Announces New Investment in Innovative Small Modular Reactor”, energy.gov, December 12, 2013.
ref. 2 “Small Nuclear Power Reactors”, world Nuclear Association, May 29, 2014.
Ref. 3 Website, NuScale Power LLC, Portalnd, OR.
Ref. 4 “Westinghouse backs off small nuclear plants” Litvak, Anya, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 1, 2014.