Tuesday, March 12, 2013

DOE to award up to $266M to small modular nuclear reactor project; targeting commercial operation around 2025

DOE selected an SMR project with the B&W mPower reactor in 2012. The nuclear core and steam generators are integrated in a single vessel. Source: B&W. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a new funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0000800) for up to $266 million to help US industry design and certify innovative small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)-defined for this FOA as reactor units with nominal output of 300 megawatts electric (MWe) or less that are able to be factory fabricated and transported to the site for assembly of components and operation. With a 50% cost-share, total funding for the selected project will be around $462 million.

DOE will solicit proposals for cost-shared SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and achieve commercial operation around 2025, while offering innovative and effective solutions for enhanced safety, operations and performance. Selected projects will span a five-year period with at least 50% provided by private industry.

The scope of this FOA focuses on SMR designs (that provide unique and innovative features that can serve to improve nuclear safety, operability, efficiency, economics, security, and performance over existing plants and previously certified nuclear plant designs.

These SMRs should be designed to reduce core damage frequency, increase post-accident coping periods, provide features and characteristics that minimize the release of radionuclides under severe accident conditions, maximize resistance to hazards presented by natural phenomena, and present a credible case to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reduce emergency preparedness zone requirements.

The designs should provide diverse and redundant safety systems that include capabilities and design features that aid in managing the consequences of severe accidents similar to the Fukushima events. This may include ability to effectively deal with off-site power loss, ability to augment cooling water reservoirs from external sources, incorporating air and water sampling capabilities, or other innovative instrumentation and diagnostics that support accident management.

Under this cost-shared partnership, DOE intends to award a cooperative agreement(s) to support first-of-a-kind engineering (FOAKE) development, experiments, analysis, and other work to progress the design toward completion and culminates in the approval of design certification applications by the NRC, including work associated with the resolution of NRC requests for additional information during the review process.

In April 2012, DOE issued an FOA to support cost-share development of SMR development. (Earlier post.) Building off the cost-share agreement announced in November 2012 with a project led by Babcock & Wilcox (earlier post), this follow-on solicitation is open to other companies and manufacturers and is focused on furthering small modular reactor efficiency, operations and design.

The Babcock & Wilcox-led project is intended to accelerate commercialization of a small modular reactor design that targets a 2022 deployment date. Under that agreement, DOE will share costs on the design, certification and licensing of the B&W mPower small modular reactor design, with B&W providing at least 50% of the total cost. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to deploy two 180 MW small modular reactor units for commercial operation in Roane County, Tennessee, by 2021, with as many as six mPower units at that site.

Subject to congressional appropriations, federal funding for this solicitation and the project announced last year will be derived from a total $452 million identified for the Department's Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support program.

Small modular reactors-approximately one-third the size of current nuclear power plants-have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits. The Energy Department is seeking 300 MW or smaller reactor designs that can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival.

The smaller size reduces both capital costs and construction times and also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors.