Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chamber members learn about small modular reactors planned for eastern Idaho

The desert west of Idaho Falls was once home to 50 reactors. Those days are gone, but if an Oregon company has its way the Idaho National Laboratory will be the site for 12 modular reactors generating 545 megawatts of power by 2025.

The regulatory hurdles are formidable and the permitting process alone will cost $1 billion, said Michael McGough, chief commercial officer for NuScale. A subsidiary of Fluor, NuScale has had a prototype small modular reactor in operation since 2003. McGough was in Idaho Falls Tuesday to speak to the Partnership for Science and Technology and the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce.

An artist's rendering of how NuScale's small modular reactor assembly would work. For a full story, visit this link: http://greenbuildingelements.com/2013/07/01/nuscale-powers-small-modular-reactor-chosen-as-preferred-technology-by-western-initiative-for-nuclear/
Compared to a typical pressurized water reactor of 1,000 megawatts, the  advantage to a small modular reactor of 45 megawatts is that it is a "plug and play" proposition, McGough said.

Fluor wants to market nuclear power plants to the world, which is why it bought NuScale in October 2011. "They want to build power plants around the world," he said.

It is possible that NuScale plants could be going online abroad sooner than they might in the United States. Right now, the company is waiting to hear whether it is going to receive $226 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help in the design certification process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A decision could come as early as next week, and if it happens they anticipate having their design certification application submitted -- typically a 10,000-page document -- submitted to the NRC in 2015. The review of that application would take 39 months, after which they need to get NRC permission to build.

"There's lots of things you have to do, and you have to do them right," McGough said.

Unlike traditional reactors, which rely on electric pumps to keep water on the fuel rods to keep them from melting, NuScale's self-contained, self-circulating reactors shut themselves down during a station blackout.

As for the selection of Idaho Falls, it's a case of going where you are wanted. "If the community won't support it, you just shouldn't try," he said.

The Western Governor's Association has had nuclear energy on its mind for the past three years. New hydro-electric projects aren't in the cards, and new coal-fired plants are out to the question. Wind and solar are intermittent sources and heavily subsidized. That leaves natural gas and nuclear for big baseline loads.

In June this year, at its conference in Park City, the Association released its "State of Energy in the West" report. One of the stated goals was to find ways to accelerate introduction of small modular reactors into Western states.

Shortly after that, NuScale announced the launch of the Western Initiative for Nuclear, a demonstration project in Idaho to be built and owned by a consortium of regional utilities including Energy Northwest and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), the latter of which Idaho Falls Power is affiliated with.

Much will depend on who gets the $226 million from DOE, which would be disbursed over five years. Westinghouse Electric, Holtes International and General Atomics have also put in for the funding.