Major US steel producer and the US’ Purdue University consider using SMRs

Article by Kerry Hebden

Ken Wolter/
Purdue University in Indiana, US, and Nucor Corporation, the largest steel producer in the US, have each announced that they are considering using SMRs to power their respective facilities.

Has the time of small modular reactors (SMRs) finally come? With reported benefits such as increased safety margins in comparison to existing reactors, the ability to scale up or down to meet energy demands, and the potential to be carbon-free, both Nucor Corporation, the largest steel producer in the US, and Purdue University in Indiana, US, have each announced that they are considering using SMRs to power their respective facilities. 

Nucor Corporation has signed an MoU with NuScale Power to explore the deployment of NuScale's VOYGR SMR power plants at its scrap-based electric arc furnace (EAF) steel mills by evaluating site suitability, transmission interconnection capabilities, and capital costs. Nucor invested US$15m in NuScale in April 2022, shortly before the SMR technology company merged with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp in May 2022. 

NuScale has three types of VOYGR SMR plants: VOYGR-12, VOYGR-6, and VOYGR-4, with the number denoting how many power modules are used. Each module is capable of producing 77 MWe, so VOYGR-12 can generate 924 MWe, for example. NuScale’s Power Module is the first and currently the only SMR to receive design approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the firm said. 

The Power Module is based on proven pressurised water-cooled reactor technology that employs gravity-driven natural circulation of the primary coolant for both normal operation and shutdown mode. The design life of the module is 60 years, and it is fuelled with <4.95% enriched uranium dioxide (UO2). The modular design of the reactors means it is easy to scale up as capacity requirements increase, and each can be shipped to the plant site by truck, rail, or barge. 

Leon Topalian, CEO of Nucor Corporation said: "Nucor is committed to supporting the development of transformative technologies that will deploy safe, reliable, affordable, 24/7, base-load carbon free power, like NuScale’s VOYGR SMR plants. Not only will Nucor’s partnership with NuScale help pave the way for a zero-carbon energy future for our nation, but we will be building this new generation with the cleanest steel products made anywhere in the world.” 

Nuclear-powered campus?

Meanwhile, Purdue has been working with Duke Energy, one of America’s largest energy holding companies, to assess whether power produced through SMRs would be suitable for use at its West Lafayette campus, as well as to provide excess power to the state’s electric grid. The partnership started a feasibility study on the suitability of the technology in April 2022, and recently released an interim report following hundreds of hours of research and evaluation.  

Amongst the report’s findings, they note that SMRs would create thousands of temporary construction jobs and hundreds of high-wage permanent jobs, and generate millions in local taxes. “Bringing small modular reactor technology to Indiana will help retain and attract talent to the state, and a significant number of the workforce could transfer from retiring coal plants. Zero carbon, reliable nuclear power will attract private companies to locate and expand in Indiana,” the report said. 

However, to date, no technology has been selected, and no decision to build a new plant has been made. The duo will continue to work on the next steps outlined in the interim report, which also recommends that cost and economic studies, site evaluations, and additional technology assessments should be carried out. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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