Nuclear, Reactors

Small modular reactors are “hot”

The 2010 NUCLEAR POWER International conference began on Tuesday afternoon with a mega-session discussing the institutional efforts related to deploying small modular reactors (SMR), those under 300 MW, in the United States.

Speakers from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) and High Bridge Associates discussed the benefits of implementing small modular nuclear reactors into the power sector.

“Small modular reactors can expand nuclear to areas and applications underserved by large plants,” said Paul Genoa, director of policy development at NEI. “But it is not a competition between large and small reactors.”

Dr. Terry Michalske, director of the Savannah River National Laboratory, also spoke about the development of the small modular reactors during the keynote session at POWER-GEN International 2010. He said SMRs can be a “game changing technology” to reduce carbon while keeping up with and “meeting energy demands globally.”

“Small modular reactors will compete with natural gas and other fuels,” said Michalske. “The cost of these fuels will determine if small reactors are commercially viable.”

Christian Araguas with NRC said the regulator established the Advanced Reactor Program in 2009 to focus on new licensing technologies. Araguas said NRC is studying at several pre-application reviews to identify possible technical issues, such as safety, security and emergency planning. He said vendors that engage the NRC early can resolve these technical issues. To address safety and security concerns, the small reactors will be built with 9/11 concepts into the designs. NRC expects the first application submission by 2012.

Globally, China, Russia and India are moving forward with indigenous projects.

“Small modular reactors are a global hot topic,” said Philip Moor, vice president of consulting and management firm High Bridge Associates.

The U.S. does not currently have any SMRs producing commercial power, but vendors such as Babcock and Wilcox and NuScale Power are moving forward towards design certification, although the first deployment of an SMR in the U.S. may not come until the 2018 to 2020 timeframe, said Genoa.

Additionally, the Obama administration has requested $38.8 million for the 2011 fiscal year budget for the development of SMRs. And as the public interest in energy continues to grow, so does the interest in SMRs, said Moor.

If approved, the funding towards the development of small reactors in the U.S. may play a part of the International Atomic Energy Association’s estimate of between 49 to 97 SMRs built by 2030.

Genoa also said as NRC gains more expertise, utilities will have more interest.