US regulatory thumbs up brings small modular nuclear reactors a step closer
The first small modular reactor (SMR) application has passed an intensive Phase 1 review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), potentially marking the next chapter in civilian nuclear power in the US. The okay of the reactor Design Certification Application (DCA) for Britain-based NuScale Power means that plans can progress for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems' 12-module SMR plant in Idaho, which is scheduled to go online in the middle of the next decade.
According to NuScale, the SMR design underwent 115,000 hours of review by the NRC , with the small number of requests for more information a reflection of the reactor's simplicity. Along with the certification, the US Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy awarded NuScale a cost-sharing financial assistance package worth US$40 million under its "US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development" program.
The SMR is designed to replace the one or more giant reactors in current nuclear power plants with smaller modular ones that can be assembled at a central facility and then shipped to the site for installation. Each 76 x 15 ft (23 x 5 m) module has a thermal capacity of 160 MWt and generates 50 MW of electricity, yet weighs only about 700 tons and costs less than US$5,100/KW.
These modules can run for a year without refueling and are scalable, so a single reactor can serve small, sparsely populated regions, while larger installations can operate dozens. The hope is that modular designs will not only lower the cost of nuclear power, but improve their environmental profile and allow them to operate without the intense regulatory burden of present designs, which have prevented any new building permits from being awarded in 40 years.
"We are thankful for the rigorous review of our revolutionary nuclear design and greatly appreciate the government recognizing the importance of furthering NuScale's advancement," says NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins. "Our technology means significant economic and job benefits for the country and it's positioned to revitalize the domestic nuclear industry by virtue of NuScale's affordable, flexible, and safe solution to providing zero-carbon energy."