NuScale targets SMR staff costs below nuclear industry average

Component standardization, simplicity, and automation in NuScale Power’s IPWR design should reduce operational staff count to around 0.7 staff per MW, Ross Snuggerud, NuScale’s Senior Operations Engineer, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

NuScale is now over a year into the design certification application (DCA) license approval process for its IPWR small modular reactor (SMR) design. 

NuScale plans to deliver its first 600 MW to Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) by around 2026 and could see the first power module built by 2020.

As it edges closer towards commercial operations, NuScale is performing a range of simulation projects to flesh out control strategies and minimize operations and maintenance (O&M) costs.

NuScale has estimated an overnight capital cost of $5,078/kWe for its first plant and targets a Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) at around $65/MWh. This LCOE estimate takes into account DOE support funding, cost of capital associated with municipality customers, and tax support including production tax credits (PTCs).

SMR developers expect design features such as passive safety systems and smaller emergency planning zones (EPZs) to help lower O&M costs. NuScale has also performed plant simulation projects which have revealed further savings.

Design efficiencies have allowed NuScale to reduce the estimated operational staff count for a 600 MW plant to around 0.7 staff per MW, lower than the nuclear industry average, Snuggerud told Nuclear Energy Insider.

"We've put a lot of effort into developing high levels of automation and leveraging the simplicity of the design," he said.

Under the current schedule, NuScale hopes to receive design licence approval by 2021 and obtain a site licence approval soon after. If these stages proceed as planned, the company aims to start construction of the UAMPS plant by 2023 and bring the plant online by 2026.

O&M efficiency

NuScale has designed the IPWR to have fewer systems and moving components than conventional large-scale reactors.

The plant also features smaller and lighter weight components. Multiple identical modules, each of capacity 50 MW, provide "symmetry" in design and greater data monitoring capabilities to support preventative maintenance.

Standardization of valves and other components across multiple modules allows the operator to gather performance and degradation data faster than for a single stand-alone module, Snuggerud said.

"It also gives you the opportunity to compare performance among multiple units and look for problems in degradation," he said.

In May 2017, NuScale launched its second small modular reactor (SMR) control room simulator to develop plant operating procedures and training material, at its office in Richland, Washington.

The simulator comprises of a virtual nuclear power plant control room for the operation of a NuScale SMR module, turbine generator and support systems.

The simulator has provided operational insights which are also informing component design and procurement, Snuggerud said.

"If we design a valve, we want to use that same valve everywhere so that the maintenance people can be more familiar with that valve's behaviour and be more efficient in its replacement," he said.

The simulator will produce results on operational staff strategies that will be provided to the NRC later this year as part of NuScale's Integrated system validation (ISV) project. The ISV is an evaluation of the control room hardware, software, and operational conduct, from a human factors engineering (HFE) perspective. ISV data will inform a result summary report for the V&V (verification and validation) of the control room design that will be delivered to the NRC in early 2019.

Output Flexibility

According to NuScale, UAMPS and other potential SMR customers are looking for maximum operational flexibility, particularly in response to renewable energy intermittency.

                      Forecast US renewable energy generation

                                                          (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook 2018.

The NuScale design incorporates greater control room functionality than operational large-scale reactors and design innovations which reduce the impact on fuel, allowing faster changes to power levels, Snuggerud said.

Plant output can be raised at a rate of around 50% of total capacity per hour, he said.

The IPWR design also allows operators to moderate power supply directly through the condenser rather than the turbine, meaning the plants could also provide rolling reserve capacity or process heat applications, Snuggerud said.

"There would be an efficiency cost to doing that, but if there was a market where that have value, that would be something the plant could do," Snuggerud said.

This application may be appropriate to switching between power and steam for hydrogen production or desalination purposes, for example. NuScale is continuing to perform research into these areas under its Diverse Energy Platform project.

I&C talks

NuScale plans to select its preferred supplier group for module fabrication by this summer. The design of the instrumentation and control (I&C) system would feed into the module procurement process.

NuScale is currently reviewing the range of I&C control systems available and hopes to decide this year on the type of I&C vendors the company will work with in the coming years, Snuggerud said.

"It's not about picking a vendor this year, it's about understanding what kind of vendors we want to work with," he said.

NuScale is looking to maximize predictive maintenance insights within its digital control platform and has held preliminary talks with several analytics providers, Brian Gardes, NuScale’s ‎I&C Design Supervisor, said.

Final decisions on analytics packages remain several years away, Gardes noted.

"This is an emerging market...They are getting better at these overlying software packages that might be used for online diagnostics," he said.

Vendor discussions form part of a wider reorientation of NuScale priorities towards commercial operations, Gardes said.

"Up until the end of 2016, NuScale had a high level of focus on submitting the design certification application to the NRC... As we've submitted the DCA, the mindset has swapped from being very regulatory-focused to being much more commercially-focused," he said.

Nuclear Energy Insider