U.S. Company Submits Meltdown-Proof Nuclear Reactor Application To Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  • Date: 15/01/17
  • James Conca, Forbes

NuScale Power is a company with a mission – to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America. As of now, they are certainly on track.

NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor, the first SMR to file a license application to NRC, is indeed smaller than any existing commercial reactors giving it great flexibility, low cost and something critical – it cannot melt down. Source: NuScale

Last week, NuScale announced their submission of the first design certification application for any SMR in the United States to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They did all the legwork and got all their ducks in a row before submitting, something that is critical for success with the NRC.

The application consisted of 12,000 pages of technical information. After a quick review period of two months to see if any additional information is required prior to starting their full review, the NRC will take 40 months to review and issue a design certification. That certification will be valid for 15 years to support a combined license application for NuScale to construct and operate this new type of power plant.

Expect the first SMR to be built in America and become operational in the early 2020s.

NuScale had their work cut out for them. NRC has never licensed an SMR. Conventional wisdom says the licensing period should be longer than usual. So NuScale spent a lot of time doing everything necessary to give NRC everything they needed to make it easy to license this reactor. NuScale spent $30 million dollars in testing, built large-scale test facilities and a unique control room simulator.

This reactor is something that we’ve never seen before – a small modular reactor that is economic, factory built and shippable, flexible enough to desalinate seawater, refine oil, load-follow wind, produce hydrogen, modular to make the power plant any size, and that provides something we’ve all been waiting for – a reactor that cannot meltdown.

This last point is the really big deal with SMRs. The small size of each module changes the surface-area-to-volume ratio such that heat can be siphoned off easily such that the reactor can’t melt down.

Building the first SMR requires a team effort. NuScale developed a teaming arrangement with Energy Northwest, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and the Department of Energy.

NuScale will build the SMR, UAMPS will own the SMR, Energy Northwest will operate the SMR and DOE will provide the site for the SMR on the grounds of its Idaho National Laboratory. UAMPS, an agency of the state of Utah, develops and operates power generation facilities to supply wholesale electricity to community-owned municipal power providers in Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming.

Starting in 2000, NuScale’s SMR technology was developed and tested at Oregon State University, led by NuScale co-founder and OSU nuclear physics professor Jose Reyes, who now serves as NuScale’s chief technology officer.

NuScale’s small power modules are about 50 MW each and 12 of them can be put together to make a power plant up to 600 MW, a 12-pack. They use standard 17×17 PWR fuel assemblies, but only at half the height, with an average U235 enrichment of 3.8%. A single NuScale nuclear power module is 76-feet tall and 15-feet in diameter, and sits in a plant covering 32 acres or 0.05 square miles.

Refueling of SMRs do not require the nuclear plant to shut down. The small size and large surface area-to-volume ratio of NuScale’s reactor core, that sits below ground in a super seismic-resistant heat sink, 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 manufactured in a factory prior to shipping and assembly at the site, removing a major cost issue with building new nuclear plants. The reactor vessels and other large components can be manufactured with medium-sized forges, something we actually have here in the United States. Traditional large reactors need extremely large forging facilities, of which only a few exist in the world – none in America.

These innovative designs bring the total life-cycle cost to produce electricity with this SMR to below that of any other energy source except hydroelectric.

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