…There’s Hope for Nuclear Power…
A nuclear power revival seems remote with the closing of existing nuclear power plants in the US, the stopping of construction of two new plants in South Carolina by SCANA Corp., and the possible stoppage of the two Vogtle units by the Southern Company in Georgia.
Both SCANA and Southern suffered large cost overruns compounded by the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the company supplying the units, including their construction and installation.
After the Vogtle and SCANA cost overruns, it is highly unlikely that any new large reactors will be built in the United States.
There is, however, the possibility of building new small modular reactors (SMRs). The NuScale design could be the winner in that regard.
The certification application by NuScale for a new SMR design was accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within two months of its submission by NuScale … A remarkably short time.
This will allow the NRC to conduct a full review.
While the review will probably take several years, the rapidity with which the NRC accepted the certification application is a good sign. It demonstrates that NuScale did an excellent job in pre-engineering.
NuScale reportedly spent $30 million to develop a large scale test facility and control room to be certain its submittal was complete.
NuScale is planning to build its first SMR at the Idaho National Laboratory for operation by the Utah Associated Municipal Power System.
NuScale could demonstrate that the nuclear power industry in the United States is alive and well. By one estimate, 1,000 SMRs could be built worldwide by 2035, which represents a business opportunity for NuScale, and any other successful SMR design.
(The unit is 65 ft tall, 9 ft diameter and sits, underground, within a containment vessel with cooling water.)
While existing nuclear power plants are safe, they do require backup power to ensure that cooling water is available if the plant is shut down. It was the lack of cooling water that caused the meltdowns at Fukushima.
The NuScale SMR is designed to not require additional cooling water, as the design allows the unit to shut down without any possibility of a meltdown. The small size of each module should allow the heat to dissipate without additional cooling.
Organizations, such as The Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Institute, that opposed nuclear power and made Americans unnecessarily fearful of radiation may still campaign against SMRs.
Potential opportunities and hurdles for SMRs
SMRs have the potential to reduce the cost of construction by having all, or most of their components built and assembled in a factory, for installation at the construction site.
However, the Vogtle and SCANA reactors were also supposed to take advantage of the savings associated with using a factory to manufacture components, as opposed to building everything on the site, but it proved to be unsuccessful and led to higher costs.
The Vogtle units, and SCANA units if they hadn’t been cancelled, are going to cost well over $6,000 per KW, which is an astronomical cost for a power plant. Natural gas power plants, for example, only cost around $1,100 per KW.
One hurdle to NuScale’s success will be obtaining a license from the NRC. This will be the first SMR, and being first, the NRC could take longer than usual to approve the design.
The second hurdle will be cost. Can NuScale actually build a nuclear power plant for well under $6,000 per KW?
NuScale has a great opportunity to rekindle the nuclear power industry in the United States.
There are other SMR designs in the offing, so the United States has an opportunity to become the world leader in SMRs.
This would mean jobs for Americans, as well as export opportunities for both licensing and the sale of components.
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