The Senate Nuclear Power 2021 Act promotes design standards
The Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S. 512) proposes a program to design and certify small modular reactors (< 300 megawatts) which can be built and operated in combination with similar reactors at a single site. This is the so-called "six pack" option.
Second bite at the apple
All three senators strongly endorsed the legislation which is a repeat of the same bill that was unanimously approved by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee in 2009. The new bill is also co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-Louisiana)
Sen. Bingaman: “Modular reactors make sense because they do not require as large up-front capital investment as conventional reactors. They will keep construction costs down at a time when the expense of building a traditional plant has become so high.
Sen. Murkowski: “This legislation will help address existing challenges and overcome roadblocks by making the development, licensing, and deployment of small reactors a priority.”
Sen. Udall: “Small reactors have the potential to make nuclear power more cost-efficient and secure. This bill will help bring small modular reactors to the market."
Cost sharing between government and industry
Under the Bingaman-Murkowski-Udall bill, the Federal effort would be cost-shared with the private sector and selected under a competitive merit review process that emphasizes efficiency, cost, safety and proliferation resistance.
The Nuclear Power 2021 Act authorizes the Secretary of Energy to work in a public-private partnership to:
- Develop a standard design for two modular reactors, one of which will not be more than 50 MW;
- Obtain a design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for each design by 2018; and
- Obtain a combined operating license from the Commission by 2021.
Only two of the pending designs are that small. There are substantial design differences between them.
One is NuScale Power's LWR design at 45 MW. The conventional LWR design uses uranium fuel enriched to about 5% U235.
The other is Hyperion Power’s 25 MW fast reactor is being developed in New Mexico. (right). The Hyperion reactor is reported to be specifying a uranium oxide fuel enriched to up to 19% U235. It is reported to be considering using a lead-bismuth metal-cooled system.
The senate committee spokesman declined to comment whether any special reference to NuScale or Hyperion is intended by the limit on power rating in the proposed legislation for one of standard designs. The other reference design has to be less than 300MW according to the committee spokesman.
SMR market developments
Other small modular reactor (SMR) designs include B&W’s mPower 125 MW LWR and several 100-300 MW designs including GE-Hitachi’s PRISM reactor at just under 300 MW.
TVA is working with B&W to develop a 125 SMR project at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Several other SMR developers are pursuing development of an energy park at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Smaller reactors can be less capital intensive than the larger 1000-megawatt reactors currently being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They also have the potential to be built in a modular and step-wise fashion. Finally, because of their lower total capital cost, they would allow utilities to get into the nuclear game without betting the company.
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