Feasibility study for microreactor in Alaska

08 February 2022

Alaskan cooperative utility Copper Valley Electric Association (CVEA) and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) have agreed to determine the feasibility of building the first commercial installation of a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy System in the US state.

The MMR Energy System (Image: USNC)

The study - expected to take 4-6 months to complete - is designed to determine the technical feasibility, social acceptance, location, cost and operating specifics of what is projected to be a 10 MWe micro facility using USNC's advanced nuclear technology.

CVEA provides electrical and heat services to more than 3800 business and residential customers stretching north 160 miles from Valdez to Glennallen and spanning 100 miles east to west from the Tok Cutoff highway into the northern reaches of the Matanuska Valley.

It is not interconnected to any other electric utility and is dependent on expensive and volatilely-priced liquid fossil fuels to provide 30% of its annual generation requirements.

An objective of CVEA's strategic plan - approved by its board of directors in 2021 - is to reduce its reliance on liquid fossil fuels in favour of a cleaner, economic power supply while increasing energy independence.

"Priorities for CVEA are to study the application of MMR technology in decarbonising the utility's energy portfolio, increasing efficiency, lowering the cost of operations and stabilising winter rates when an increase in diesel generation would be necessary," said CVEA CEO Travis Million.

"CVEA and USNC will engage with communities and hope to earn their support by listening to and considering local interests throughout all phases of the project."

"We want to prove to Alaskans that our technology can meet Alaska's unique energy needs by providing reliable and clean power to small populations dispersed across vast distances, despite harsh climate, geography, and other environmental conditions," said USNC CEO Francesco Venneri.

The companies said intentional, community-based conversations to offer opportunities for CVEA members and interested Alaskans to ask questions or provide input on the proposed project will take place over the next several months, while technical and economic assessments are completed.

"If results are favourable, this will be the first deployment of a civilian microreactor in Alaska," CVEA and USNC noted in a joint statement.

The next steps following a positive outcome of the feasibility study would be for CVEA and USNC to define a financial framework for the operation and ownership of the plant and for a detailed engineering study to be performed for siting the nuclear plant. This study will inform the process to obtain a license with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the needed state permits.

USNC's MMR - a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor - is currently undergoing licensing in Canada and the USA. Global First Power plans to build and operate an MMR unit at Chalk River Laboratories in Canada by 2026, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has informed the NRC that it intends to construct an MMR on its campus.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News