NuScale-BWXT contract set to reveal full modular build payoff

NuScale's new SMR engineering contract with U.S. supplier BWXT aims to pinpoint manufacturing, assembly and transport efficiencies, prioritising lower levelized cost of energy, Scott Bailey, Vice President, Supply Chain at NuScale, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

In September, NuScale selected Virginia-based BWX Technologies (BWXT) to perform detailed engineering work for its IPWR small modular reactor (SMR) design, marking the first transition of an SMR plant to the manufacturing phase.

NuScale plans to complete the design licence application (DLA) process for its light water reactor-based design by September 2020, and aims to build a 720 MW commercial plant for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) by 2026.

BWXT is a major supplier of nuclear systems and engineering services to the U.S. market, manufacturing components such as reactor vessels and steam generators and providing plant upgrades and maintenance.

The new engineering contract will see BWXT optimize the engineering design of the IPWR for manufacturing, assembly and transportation. The first phase of the work, design for manufacturing, will commence in early 2019.

In June, NuScale raised the capacity of the design by 20%, increasing the capacity of each individual module from 50 MW to 60 MW.

The power uprate is a significant boost for NuScale as it lowers the estimated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) by 18% and reduces capital costs from $5,000/kW to around $4,200/kW. The target LCOE for the UAMPS plant is $65/MWh and the cost for future plants will depend on factors such as the cost of capital.

BWXT will now work with NuScale's design team to lower the cost, improve the quality, and optimize the manufacturing schedule for the NuScale power module, Scott Bailey, Vice President, Supply Chain at NuScale, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

"NuScale is utilizing industry manufacturing experts in the design stage to reduce manufacturing issues and costs," he said.

Factory shift

NuScale chose BWXT following an 18-month selection process which drew interest from 83 companies based in 10 countries.

"BWXT’s established industry experience was important for us, and so was choosing an American company,” John Hopkins, President and Chief Executive Officer of NuScale Power, said in a statement.

BWXT plans to subcontract Pennsylvania-based group Precision Custom Components (PCC) for component manufacturing.

Over the last six years, PCC has provided consultancy services to NuScale's design team, including a review of the "manufacturability" of certain aspects, James Stout, Vice President, Business Development and Sales at PCC, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

SMR developers predict major cost savings from modular construction processes which leverage factory efficiencies and minimize on-site construction costs.

                               Global construction labor costs by region

                                                                (Click image to enlarge)

Source: MIT report: The Future of Nuclear Energy. (November 2018).

In the U.S. and Europe, where nuclear construction site productivity has been low, plant developers should look to maximize factory production “to take advantage of the manufacturing sector’s higher productivity when it comes to turning out complex systems, structures, and components," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said in a recent report.

"To make the most of its advantages, modularization must be considered at the conceptual design stage, especially for the more mundane parts of plant design that involve buildings, rooms, structural concrete, electrical conduit/cable trays, and piping runs," MIT said in its report "The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World."

Efficiency targets

NuScale's engineering program focuses on reducing capital and O&M costs that impact the LCOE.

Efficient construction processes are key to minimizing capital expenditure and financing costs and NuScale has set out a three-year construction schedule for its first plant.

“One of the objectives for the first phase of the BWXT work is to assess opportunities to reduce costs and the time it takes to fabricate the modules,” Diane Hughes, vice president, marketing & communications at NuScale, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

SMR designs incorporate passive safety systems that reduce capital and operational expenditure. In addition, NuScale’s simplified and standardized design will help to lower the cost of materials and manufacturing and support modular build gains.

The NuScale Power Module has no reactor coolant pumps, external steam generator vessels or large-bore reactor coolant piping, Bailey noted.

“In addition, our [720 MW] design is based on a multiple module plant with twelve identical balance of plant systems allowing for standardization in the manufacturing process, increased efficiency, improved quality and lower cost,” he said.

Transport risks

Factory build processes introduce transport challenges and associated costs.

Chemical industry experience has shown that the size of modules can be determined by the transportation options and route to site, MIT noted in its report.

NuScale has been working with heavy haul experts to determine the most efficient size and weight of modules to transport, Bailey said.

Barge transport is the most efficient method for the nuclear power module and NuScale is continuing to study the most efficient land routes and methods, he said.

NuScale will feed its logistics findings into the BWXT design manufacturing projects.

Supplier role

NuScale is executing a Design for Lifecycle engineering program to ensure maximum efficiency during design, manufacturing, operations and decommissioning phases.

Engineering requirements and design adaptations for each stage are reviewed by a DFL board which then relays proposed changes to an engineering change board for approval.

BWXT’s detailed planning and design for manufacturability work is expected to run from 2019 through June 2020 and NuScale expects to sign a number of module fabrication agreements with BWXT.

“The final details associated with the fabrication contracts will not be available until sufficient progress has been made in the first phase of the work, which is expected to occur sometime in 2019," Hughes said.

By Neil Ford