US group calls for SMR support

12 October 2017

US federal and state policymakers and officials should support the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) by US companies to help secure the nation's position as an international leader on nuclear technology for decades to come, according to a new report by the Nuclear Innovation Alliance organisation.

With aging US coal and nuclear plants slated for retirement, and the urgency of combating climate change, SMRs are well-suited to help provide the next generation of much-needed clean, dispatchable energy, alongside renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources, the organisation notes. Globally, SMRs have the potential to help meet growing international energy demand and offer an alternative to traditional, large light water reactors with power outputs that can better match the scale of developing world energy needs. SMRs' operational flexibility also makes them better able to complement variable energy sources such as wind and solar, it says.

Between domestic and export opportunities, a US SMR industry could create or sustain hundreds of thousands of American jobs, the report notes.

"By supporting new SMR technology deployment, the United States can help secure its position as an international leader on nuclear technology for decades to come," Ashley Finan, Nuclear Innovation Alliance policy director, said.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance is a group of companies, investors, experts and stakeholders seeking the commercialisation of advanced reactors. It researches, develops and advocates policies that enable the efficient licensing and demonstration of advanced reactor technologies.

The 50-page report, Enabling Nuclear Innovation: Leading on SMRs, makes specific recommendations to policymakers to support the development of SMR technology. It calls on Congress and the US administration to expand support for new reactor design and licensing to include non-light water designs and extend support through design finalisation; and to amend the nuclear energy tax credit to help first-of-a-kind SMR projects to close the economic gap with natural gas plants.

It also calls on the US energy secretary to take steps to ensure that federal facilities procure power from SMR projects under development by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Finally, it calls on state governments to expand existing or proposed Renewable Portfolio Standards into Clean Energy Standards that could include SMRs and other advanced nuclear technology.

"By investing in a portfolio of reactor technologies and providing a continuum of support through different stages of development, the US government can bolster SMR innovation while allowing the market to guide technology selection," report author Matt Bowen said. "Our findings indicate that we are at an important juncture where targeted incentives for SMRs can make a big difference for the country's future clean energy options."

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is already supporting the development and commercialisation of SMRs, which it sees playing an important role in addressing the country's energy security, economic and climate goals. TVA's early site permit application for two or more SMR modules of up to 800 MWe at Clinch River, Tennessee, has been developed with the support of the DOE SMR Licensing Technical Support programme, which has also provided cost-shared financial assistance through an interagency agreement. The five-year agreement, finalised in July 2015, will also support a combined construction and operating licence (COL) application.

The DOE also in 2015 awarded a three-year cooperative agreement to NuScale and UAMPS to conduct site characterisation activities and to prepare documentation that will lead to a COL application for a commercial 12-module NuScale power plant. This is planned to be built on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory. It will be owned by UAMPS and operated by Energy Northwest.

Cost competitive

Another US-based consortium SMR Start, recently issued a report which found SMRs could rival the costs of natural gas plants if the first-of-a-kind risks typically facing new technologies are properly addressed.

The Economics of Small Modular Reactors, published on 14 September, evaluates market opportunities, commercialisation timeframes and costs competitiveness for SMRs. According to the report, the first SMRs are expected to be within the range of natural gas plant costs, assuming appropriate private-public partnerships, which it says help to reduce technology risks and keep first-of-a-kind costs low. Partnerships also reduce the barriers to technology adoption and allow the learning curve to bring down the cost of future SMRs.

By 2030, after the first few plants begin operation, SMRs would be cost-competitive without further private-public partnerships, the report finds. "For most scenarios, the costs of SMRs are within the range of natural gas plants, such that a utility could choose an SMR based on factors such as long-term price stability and fuel diversity," it says.

SMR Start is a consortium of SMR developers and customers launched in January last year to advocate for SMRs in the USA.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News