NuScale Outlines Multiple Applications of Low Cost SMR Plants

Nuclear Energy Insider attended an industry briefing at NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) test site in Oregon and witnessed major interest from politicians and financers in what is likely to become the first SMR reactor online in the US.

The first 12-reactor Control Room Simulator in the world at NuScale’s Integral System Test facility. Source: NuScale

The NuEx Conference in Corvallis, Oregon was held on August 20-21 to showcase NuScale’s SMR test facilities and unveil the technological research and key commercial market applications.

The NuEx event was notable for the number of financiers, potential users and politicians attending, in addition to scientists and engineers. About 250 people attended and many had to be turned away. There were talks and presentations, but also break-out sessions to tackle specific financial, social and engineering issues.

Key people from the NuScale team were available for all discussions, from Fluor, AREVA, Rolls Royce, ARES and Enercon.
Elected officials like Representative Dallas Heard from Oregon, Senator Sharon Brown from Washington State, and Mayor Rebecca Casper of Idaho Falls were present, along with officials from the Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, company CEOs and representatives from large financial institutions such as Goldman-Sachs.

What this large, generally bi-partisan group was interested in was the test history of the NuScale small modular reactor design.

As Senator Sharon Brown noted, "New nuclear is smaller, safer and carbon free. This is not a partisan issue.”

The NuEx meeting reflected how the electric power sector needs to urgently address new carbon emission measures such as the US’ Clean Power Plan.

Nuclear power has contributed greatly to curbing carbon emissions, but existing nuclear power plants are aging. These plants must be replaced, and nuclear power capacity expanded, if we are to meet tightening emissions goals.

The technology on these new reactors, either large or small, will be completely different to plants currently in operation. Reliability has never been an issue with nuclear, but scalability, passive safety, economics and integration with renewables have been.
Enter SMRs. Whether it’s SMR’s ability to load-follow renewables, desalinate seawater, provide district heating, power chemical production, oil refining, hydrogen production or advanced steelmaking, the co-generation of power and hybrid systems will be key.

Scalable, flexible, safe

The meeting allowed NuScale’s project partners to outline the latest applications of the technology:

  • The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and Energy Northwest partnered with NuScale at the Horse Butte Wind farm to show how a single module could efficiently load-follow wind turbines, addressing their intermittency and removing the need for natural gas or coal back-up plants.
  • Aquatech and NuScale demonstrated that an 8-Module Plant in California could desalinate seawater to produce 18 billion gallons of clean water plus 3 TWhs of electricity each year.
  • Idaho National Laboratory and NuScale confirmed that a 6-module plant would produce hydrogen by high-temperature steam electrolysis with no carbon emissions.
  • Fluor and NuScale showed that the use of a 10-Module Plant coupled to a 250,000 barrels/day refinery would substantially cut carbon emissions for the petroleum industry.

The NuScale small power modules are about 50 MWe each, requiring 12 of them for a 600 MWe plant. Unlike most operational reactors, the plant does not need to be shut down for refueling.

NuScale’s reactor core sits below ground in a super seismic-resistant heat sink and its small size and large surface area-to-volume ratio allows natural processes to cool it indefinitely in the case of complete power blackout, with no humans needed to intervene, no AC or DC power, no pumps, and no additional water for cooling.

The components of the NuScale reactor can all be factory-manufactured, then shipped and assembled at the site, which helps to lower the construction cost.

The reactor vessels and other large components can be manufactured with medium-sized forges which already exist in the US. Traditional large reactors need extremely large forging facilities, of which only a few exist in the world - none in US or the UK.

These innovative designs mean the actual life-cycle electricity production cost of the SMR is lower than all generation types except hydroelectric plants.

Attendees of the conference got to see some of the exciting technology up close.

Standing in the first full 12-reactor Control Room Simulator in the world was quite a thrill.

NuScale is the brain-child of Dr. José Reyes, from Oregon State University.

Over the last two decades, Reyes designed and constructed a series of nuclear power plant test facilities in Corvallis. These included the Advanced Thermal Hydraulic Research Laboratory (ATHRL) that housed the APEX test facilities for testing the AP600 and AP1000, the Multi-Application Small

Light Water Reactor (MASLWR) and the NuScale Integral System Test (NIST-1) facility.

These facilities provided the research for NuScale to put together a Design Certification Application that will be submitted to the NRC by the end of next year.

It takes 40 months for NRC to review a Design Certification which means the first small modular reactor in America could be built by 2023.

The nuclear industry is abuzz with the potential of SMRs. The next SMR conference is on October 20-21 in London - check out the full program lineup here