Thursday, June 26, 2014

Officials greet Fluor's re-entry to Idaho Falls

Fluor Government Group President Bruce Stanski and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter talk Thursday morning at the company's new Idaho Falls office.
Fluor Corp. has opened a new office in Idaho Falls, but the multinational engineering and construction firm, is no stranger this area.

In the days the Idaho National Laboratory was the National Reactor Testing Station, it built the Materials Test Reactor, the Advanced Test Reactor and the Waste Calcining Facility. If all goes as planned, the company and its Oregon-based subsidiary NuScale will have small modular reactors generating power on the Idaho desert in 2023.

"Planting the Fluor flag again," was how Bruce Stanski, president of the company's Government Group, described the official event this morning at its new offices at Taylor Crossing on the River. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, Commerce Department Director Jeff Sayer and several Idaho legislators were on hand to put out the welcome mat.

"We're very excited about you being here again," Otter said.

While the office will initially employ only about 10 people, Fluor plans to expand its presence as NuScale pursues the development of 12 small modular reactors west of Idaho Falls. The developer of the project will be the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, of which Idaho Falls Power is a member.

For Idaho Falls Power Chief Jackie Flowers, becoming the lead utility for the project represents a seven-year process that began with her asking SMR people, "Why not Idaho?" She said the real turning point came five years ago, when she took Mike McGough, now NuScale's chief commercial officer, on a tour of the Center For Advanced Energy Studies.

Based in Corvallis, Ore., NuScale, in which Fluor has been the the majority investor since 2011, announced in late May that it had signed a contract agreement with the DOE for $217 million in matching funds to support development, licensing and commercialization of the company’s nuclear small modular reactor technology.

After review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NuScale expects to submit an application for design certification in the second half of 2016. This they hope will allow them to meet a commercial operation date of 2023, in partnership with UAMPS and Energy NorthWest, which operates nuclear facilities in Washington state.

NuScale has had a prototype small modular reactor operating since 2003. 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.

Several things have to happen before any dirt gets moved on the desert. While it pursues certification from NRC, the company must identify possible sites on the desert, gathering geological and meteorological information.

In its "State of Energy in the West" report of June 2013, one of the Western Governors Association's stated goals was to find ways to accelerate introduction of small modular reactors into Western states. As for the selection of Idaho Falls, there's the history and the community's favorable attitude toward nuclear energy. "It's a case of going where you are wanted. If the community won't support it, you just shouldn't try," McGough said.

As part of the Intermountain Energy Summit scheduled for mid-August in Idaho Falls, NuScale has set up a Supplier's Day on Aug. 21, where possible vendors can engage in "speed dating" -- 15-minute meetings where they can discuss possibilities. "We were blown away by the response," McGough said. "There is a lot of interest in this project."

"This is where we're going to be and this is where we're going to deploy our first 540 megawatts," said John Hopkins, NuScale's CEO. "This office is the leading edge, an operations center and a hub to build from."