NUSCALE has become the first company to seek approval for its small modular reactor (SMR) design from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The company, in which Fluor is a majority stakeholder, described its submission as a significant milestone for the power generation industry and could see the first reactor begin operation in 2026. Proponents argue that the modular nature of SMR technology has numerous advantages over conventional large-scale nuclear plants, including that the modules can be produced in a factory which should produce a higher quality product, provide a quicker return on investment, and find a wider range of applications.
The NRC will spend the next two months reading over the 12,000 pages of technical information submitted by NuScale to decide whether any additional information is needed. If it decides the submission is complete, it will begin a formal ‘design certification review’ that will last about three years. If certified, the reactor design would then be considered safe and appropriate for US use.
“We reached this tremendous milestone through the efforts of more than 800 people over eight years,” said NuScale COO Dale Atkinson. “We have documented, in extensive detail, the design conceived by Dr Jose Reyes more than a decade ago. We are confident that we have submitted a comprehensive and quality application, and we look forward to working with the NRC during its review.”
The first commercial 12-module NuScale power plant is planned to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory and will be owned by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS).
UAMPS CEO Doug Hunter said: “We are delighted that our friends at NuScale have completed this step, which is key to our project licensing and our target commercial operation date of 2026 for the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project.”
Conservative estimates predict that 55–75 GW of global electricity will come from SMRs by 2035, equivalent to over 1,000 NuScale Power Modules, the company said in a statement.
Its scalable pressurised-water design includes a fully factory-fabricated 50 MW module, which includes an integral reactor vessel surrounded by high pressure steel containment. Up to 12 of these could be housed in a single power plant. This means the technology could be deployed more flexibly, such as providing power for an individual city or industrial operation such as desalination, and new modules added as demand increases. Shorter construction timeframes should make it easier for a utility to raise capital and more quickly start generating power and returning investment compared to conventional large-scale nuclear generation.
The design includes passive safety features that allow the reactor to shut down and cool itself without power, additional water or human intervention.
NuScale says that once the design is approved, the technology will create thousands of jobs during manufacturing, construction and operation, and re-establish US global leadership in nuclear technology.
NuScale faces competition with a number of SMR designs under development, including the ACP-100 being designed in China, the SMART reactor coming out of Korea, and only last week, Rolls-Royce revealed it was partnering with Amec Foster Wheeler, Nuvia and Arup to develop SMRs in the UK. How easily these designs will cross borders, however, remains to be seen.
Writing in The Chemical Engineer last year, Kristiina Soderholm, head of nuclear R&D at Fortum Power, explained that licensing is a key challenge to the future success of SMR technology. Current practices for licensing nuclear reactors are country-specific and require nuclear designs to be modified depending on where they are constructed.
“SMR designs need to be standardised and approved commonly in multiple countries or internationally – similar to the way aircraft designs are approved. This is the only way to make small nuclear competitive,” she said.
In 2007, the World Nuclear Association established the Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing (CORDEL) working group to push for the standardisation of reactor designs but has since noted that the harmonisation and standardisation required will take substantial time, effort and acceptance by major stakeholders, particularly the national regulators.
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