Bits and pieces of a nuclear renaissance

  • TVA looks beyond Watts Bar II to Bellefonte and SMRs
  • Update on NuScale and UAMPS SMR; still for Idaho?
  • Rising costs for coal and natural gas prompt Indiana to think nuclear
  • Duke may license Lee, but building it is something else

TVA has long term nuclear ambitions

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is thinking beyond the completion of Watts Bar II in 2015. The $4.5 billion effort to complete the reactor will provide power to replace coal plants the utility will shut down.  Bill Johnson, TVA CEO, says that the next challenge will be to complete one of the partially complete Bellefonte reactors.

But Johnson’s surprise statement, made during an interview on the Nashville, TN, NPR radio station, is that beyond Bellefonte, TVA has plans for an entirely new reactor.

One of the possibilities is that it will be a small modular reactor (SMR) with power in the range of 50-300 MW.  TVA has filed for an early site permit for an SMR with the NRC, but is not required to specify a reactor in the application.

Until recently TVA had a partnership with B&W to license and build two of the firm’s MPower 180 MW reactors at the utility’s Clinch River site. Last August the two firms agreed to part ways, at least for now.

B&W told the TimesFreePress Aug 21 that neither the technology nor the market were ready for prime time. TVA’s Johnson said the utility wouldn’t be ready to build an SMR until the mid-2020s. That would be about the time it would finish with the Bellefonte unit.

An Early Site Permit for an SMR at Clinch River would be less complicated, and less costly, since the site is already in use for other nuclear activities. However, it could be a while before B&W gets a design certification before the NRC.

Update on NuScale

In the meantime, another SMR developer, NuScale of Oregon, is looking at sites in Idaho and elsewhere for its 50 MW design. Earlier this year NuScale told anyone who would listen they were focused on a site Idaho.

However, an expected formal announcement, with notification to the NRC, that the firm would submit a COL for a plant in Idaho did not materialize this Fall leading to speculation the firm is still mulling over its options including launching its technology overseas as well as in the US. Would TVA’s Clinch River plant be one of them?

Nuclear Energy Insider has a report  for 11/20/14 which confirms an earlier story   published on this blog on October 12 which said that UAMPS is still considering the Idaho National Laboratory as a site for a group of 50 MW small modular reactors to be supplied by NuScale.

According to Nuclear Energy Insider, the price tag for the first 50 MW NuScale plant is estimated to be  USD$3 billion, dropping to about $2.5bn for later units.

(These numbers are open to question as the comment by SteveK9 points out. My response follows below in an update to the main article.)

Update 11/29/14: 
At $5000/kw, a 50 MW reactor would cost $250M. A six-pack for 300 MW would cost $1.5B. A 12 unit installation might see economies of scale for the second six units. But, if you count equal costs for all units, I agree $3 billion would be an approximate price. Note that these costs don’t include turbines, switch yard equipment, or other “balance of plant” components.

Earlier this month former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said, with regard to SMRs, that by the time you’ve moved from the first-of-a-kind unit 1 to unit 10, you might see unit 10 come in 40% cheaper than unit 1. 

Nuclear Insider also reported that NuScale hopes to submit a design certification application to the NRC in 2016. UAMPS says it will make a final decision on NuScale’s technology and select a site by 2017.

Update 12/01/14: In an email to this blog the Public Affairs Office at the NRC said that NuScale has sent the agency a letter of intent to submit for a design certification for their SMR in 2016.

In an email exchange on 11/22 with this blog, NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Mike McGough said that a site has not been formally selected and that the NRC has not yet been notified of UAMPS’s plans to submit a COL in 2017.

According to McGough UAMPS informally discussed the progression of their run up to a future formal decision at the Nuclear Insider Conference held October 22.

If the US government wanted to expand the market for nuclear the capital requirements for SMRs, even at $5-6K/Kw still makes them affordable for more utilities.  Maybe that’s where the loan guarantees ought to be targeted rather than the 1000 MW units?

Could coal state Indiana take a peek at nuclear?

Why anyone would be interested in nuclear energy in Indiana is somewhat of a mystery. The state is a graveyard of failed projects and big ones at that.

In 1981 the Northern Indiana Public Service Company scrapped the Bailly nuclear power plant which was to be built on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The New York Times reported that the utility’s executives said that the project was halted because of construction delays, for which they blamed environmentalists, public officials and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Reasons included proximity to dense populations, less than optimal geology for the plant, and the possible contamination of nearby steel mills in the event of an accident.

In 1984, the Public Service Company of Indiana announced it was abandoning the half-finished Marble Hill nuclear plant on which $2.5 billion had already been spent. The project’s backers were unable to convince the Indiana legislative to authorize “construction while in progress” (CWIP) and shut down the half built plant due to a lack of financing

Since then, Indiana, which is a coal state, hasn’t shown much interest in nuclear energy.  This may change.  Rising costs for coal, spurred by costly plant pollution control equipment upgrades, and for natural gas, is prompting the executives of the state’s manufacturing base to start looking for alternatives, and one of them in nuclear energy.

Comes now Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt, a republican from Indianapolis, who wants to add nuclear energy to the list of projects that would qualify for special financial treatment. It will be a tough fight. Last year he couldn’t get the bill out of the Senate Utilities Committee even though he chairs it.

Merritt argues that the state will need nuclear energy to meet EPA’s new clean air requirements.  While few dispute the idea in principle, the state government’s more direct approach has been to file a lawsuit against EPA’s efforts to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. It turns out, at least in Indiana, that lawyers are still cheaper than nukes.

Duke keeping its options open for Williams States Lee III

Duke utility CEO Lynn Good told a meeting of the Edison Electric Institute in Houston in mid-November that while it intends to seek a license for the William States Lee III twin Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 power station, it does not have a time line to build it.

The site is near Gaffney, SC.  That state is already home to the construction of two AP1000s now under construction by South Carolina Gas & Electric. At one time Duke pursued buying a 500 MW equity share in that project, but has since dropped the idea.

One key element, among many, to a decision to build Lee is whether the State of North Carolina will change its rules about how a utility recovers costs for a plant.  Duke wants North Carolina to match the profile of its neighbor to the south which includes CWIP.  It’s a complicated situation, and although Duke is a powerhouse in North Carolina, it doesn’t always get its way.

Duke expects to get its COL license for William States Lee III from the NRC in 2016.

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About djysrv

Dan Yurman ~ About this blog and disclaimers for NeutronBytes ~ ~ ** Contact Me ~ ~ Text via Signal 216-218-3823 ~ I am NOT active on Facebook, Reddit or Instagram. Attempt no landings there. ** Header Image Credit: ~ ** Emails sent by readers about blog posts are considered to be comments for publication unless otherwise noted. ** The content of this blog is protected by copyright laws of the U.S. "Fair use" provisions apply. The RSS feed is for personal use only unless otherwise explicitly granted.
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9 Responses to Bits and pieces of a nuclear renaissance

  1. I’m happy to see that TVA isn’t going to stop after Watts Bar #2.  How many Bellefonte units are potentially viable?

    The failure of B&W to get the mPower licensed is concerning.  Maybe the company’s heart isn’t in it.  If it doesn’t have the financing to do more than one thing at a time, the viability of mPower would be questionable no matter how technically good it is.


  2. djysrv says:

    Only one of the Bellefonte units is viable. TVA has had Areva working on engineering design tasks for it with the anticipation work to complete it will start once Watts Bar II has had a hot start and is in revenue service.


  3. Mike mcgough says:

    Dan. You must’ve missed it but our first customer UAMPS announced on October 22nd that they will submit their COLA IN 2017. Thanks

    Mike McGough


    • djysrv says:

      The comments made at the nuclear trade show are “soft PR” intended for the ears of potential investors. There is no formal press release from either the customer or NucScale.

      UMAPS did not respond to an email inquiry from this blog about the nuclear intelligence trade show, though an executive of the firm is quote in 11/20 in a Nuclear Intelligence email newsletter about it.


  4. M. V. Ramana says:

    You say that the “price tag for the first 50 MW NuScale plant is estimated to be USD$3 billion, dropping to about $2.5bn for later units”. Is this the price tag for a 50 MW plant or a unit with multiple reactors? The Nuclear Energy Insider story is not specific.


    • djysrv says:

      The costs cited Nuclear Intelligence in its trade press report about NuScale of 11/20/14 are most likely the costs associated with the reactor itself, and do not include balance of plant such as turbine, switch yard, and other infrastructure needed to complete the power station. That said, because the nature of the small SMR is to build multiple units at the same site, some infrastructure eventually can be amortized in terms of costs across multiple units.

      In the case of a NuScale reactor at Idaho, it is my understanding from exchanges of email with an executive of the firm, that as many as six 50 MW units could be built there over time. The formula for success is that revenue from the first unit supports, in part, construction of the second unit, and so on.

      There are several caveats to these comments.

      First, UAMPS, which is the prospective first customer for the NuScale SMR, has said it will make a decision in 2017 on a site and whether to move forward on a COL with the NRC. As cited in the blog post, no formal decision has been made by the customer nor has the NRC been formally notified of an application for a COL.

      Second, NuScale must get complete a design review with the NRC and, in doing so, resolve two thorny issues. The first is whether a single control room can be used to manage multiple reactors, and second, whether the security requirements, including emergency response, are the same for a 50 MW plant, or six of them, compared to a site with one or two 1000 MW reactors.


    • SteveK9 says:

      It cannot be $3B for a 50 MW reactor … that cost is absurd. It’s an error, or perhaps is referring the a 12-unit plant … that would make some sense as it is ~ $5B / GW, on a par with current large plants, with the cost coming down later. Dan, I think you need to check this, it makes no sense as written.


      • djysrv says:

        At $5000/kw, a 50 MW reactor would cost $250M. A six-pack for 300 MW would cost $1.5B. A 12 unit installation might see economies of scale for the second six units. But, if you were counting equal costs for all units,. I agree $3 billion would be an approximate price. I’ll adjust the text of the blog post to reflect this.

        Note that former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu thinks that for SMRS, you get a 40% cost reduction by the time you’ve built unit 10.


  5. eknuckle says:

    Hello Dan: Enjoyed your balanced update on the SMR. Welcome back to the nuclear blogosphere


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