Federal facilities could benefit from SMRs, says report

02 February 2018

Small modular reactors (SMRs) could provide valuable energy resilience for US federal sites as a secure, reliable, and flexible source of primary and backup power, a new report funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) has found.

Small Modular Reactors: Adding resilience at federal facilities was co-authored by Seth Kirshenberg and Hilary Jackler of law firm Kutak Rock with Brian Oakley and Wil Goldenberg from financial advisory company Scully Capital Services. It reviews critical issues relating to energy resilience - what energy resilience is, why it is important, how it can be priced, and the justification for federal agencies and owners of large facilities to pay for the additional costs associated with energy resilience. US military and other national defence facilities, including DOE's national laboratories and weapons facilities, have made energy resilience a key operational priority and are actively procuring backup power at military bases, the report notes.

The report also examines the emerging technology of advanced SMRs and their ability to flexibly provide carbon-free power in response to outages caused by severe weather and physical threats to the power grid, using as a case study the SMR project currently being developed by the Tennessee Valley Authority at Clinch River near Oak Ridge. This project could be configured to provide a unique energy resilience benefit to the DOE, the authors suggest.

With power outages costing US businesses an estimated $150 billion per year, having a resilient power source not only saves money but also maintains critical services, the authors note. Common methods for to promote energy resilience include on-site back-up generators; microgrids - where several generation units share resources across buildings; improved cybersecurity; and physically hardening sites against attacks.

SMR project participants call for legislative support

Officials for the INL, NuScale Power and UAMPS this week briefed an Idaho legislative committee on two forthcoming bills that would support the project to build NuScale SMR units. One bill would exempt two of the 12 planned SMR units from sales tax, as those facilities would be dedicated to INL research. The other bill would ensure that existing legislation exempting large investment projects from property tax would apply to the SMR project.

SMRs could provide valuable resilience services as a secure, reliable, and flexible source of primary and backup power, the report finds, providing highly reliable, non-intermittent, clean, and carbon-free power, with the ability to easily store fuel on-site. However, implementing SMR projects will face difficulties to the "first of a kind" technology, construction challenges, and licensing requirements, it notes. These difficulties introduce "significant" expenses and risks that may be challenging for a project to bear without any financial support from the intended end user, it says.

The report offers recommendations to help overcome these challenges and advance the deployment of SMRs, as well as suggestions of how the US federal government can make the financing and development of SMRs easier.

Allowing federal agencies to enter into long-term agreements - up to 30 years - to purchase power produced by SMRs - would enable them to share in the risks associated with their construction, the report says. It points to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) Carbon Free Power Project to build an SMR, being developed by NuScale Power, on land owned by the DOE at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). This project envisages power from the SMR project being available for sale to federal agency customers as well as the municipal and public power utilities that make up UAMPS' membership.

It also recommends federal action to facilitate the Clinch River project as a pilot project for SMRs, providing the DOE with energy resilience for federal facilities at Oak Ridge while also providing a potential opportunity for research and isotope services. "DOE could defray a portion of the cost of the operation of a commercial reactor sited on or next to laboratory property in exchange for access to one or more units of an SMR for several research areas," it notes.

The authors recommend extending tax credit programmes and authorising the continuation of the DOE's loan guarantee programme to support advanced reactors, and calls for nuclear's inclusion in the definition of "clean" power.

The DOE and Department of Defense should work together to identify facilities that can benefit from hosting or having an SMR located near the facility to achieve added energy resilience. "[T]here are several defence facilities around the world that rely on old technology and power plants located far from the facilities to power the facilities in the case of grid outage for any reason. An SMR located in the correct area can provide a significant benefit to secure the facility and ensure long-term operation without refuelling …. Similar to aircraft carriers and submarines that are powered by nuclear power, no other power source can provide that much certainty to a land-based defence facility," the report notes.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News