By - Jim Vess

Building a Small Modular Reactor Fleet

Energize Weekly, August 28, 2019

By Budd Haemer, Senior Nuclear Counsel, American Electric Power

About half the corporate leaders of the United States see nuclear power as essential to a sustainable energy future.  Many of the leaders of the nuclear industry and in Congress see Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as one key aspect of a viable nuclear industry in the United States.  The potential for SMR deployment will be largely determined by the economic value, and potential power producers would evaluate these power plants in relation to other options for generating electricity.  Any current estimate of the costs of SMRs relies on very limited publicly available data. 

SMR design, licensing, and detailed engineering are in an early stage.; therefore, any economic estimate about SMR deployment entails a significant amount of uncertainty.  Clouded in this uncertainty are claims about the benefits of SMRs in three areas: comparable construction schedules in other generation assets (24-36 months), energy and capacity sales competitive with gas-fired and renewable units, and flexibility to build capacity where and when needed.

This graphic captures who are the contenders to be part of the SMR future of nuclear.  The fifty companies shown on the graphic reflects an explosion of interest.  For comparison, the 2012 list of serious contenders to build SMRS in the United States would have been:

  • General Atomics: Energy Multiplier Module, (EM2) (high temperature, gas-cooled fast reactor)
  • Gen4 Energy Reactor Concept (lead-bismuth fast reactor)
  • Westinghouse Electric Company: Thorium-fueled Advanced Recycling Fast Reactor for Transuranics Minimization (thorium-fueled sodium-cooled fast reactor)
  • Westinghouse Electric Company: Thorium-fueled Reduced Moderation Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) for Transuranics Minimization (thorium-fueled BWR)
  • Flibe Energy: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) (thorium-fueled liquid salt reactor)
  • Hybrid Power Technologies, LLC: Hybrid Nuclear Advanced Reactor Concept (gas-cooled reactor/natural gas turbine combination)
  • GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy PRISM and Advanced Recycling Center (sodium fast reactor)
  • Toshiba 4S Reactor (sodium fast reactor)

Currently, the leading position seems to be the light water modular reactor by NuScale of Corvalis, Oregon.  Its design has been under formal review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2017.  The NRC is on track to complete its design review and issue its Safety Evaluation Report by September 2020 with a final rule approving the design about a year later.

Want to learn more about SMRs? Check out EUCI’s Building a Small Modular Reactor Fleet course taking place October 17-18, 2019 in Charlotte, NC.

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