Westinghouse Electric Company said this week that the NRC gave permission for the company to test its small modular reactor design (SMR). It is a major reversal of the company’s decision in February 2014 to cancel its development efforts due to several factors. Most significantly, the firm had not won a share of the Department of Energy’s cost sharing money for technical development and licensing costs for SMRs. The first also cited the lack of customers.
Westinghouse called the NRC action a “significant step towards design certification,” which will reduce the time needed to license the company’s modular reactors.
Permission to go ahead with tests came in a letter dated Feb. 27, 2015, the company said. It came in the form of a Safety Evaluation Report or SER, permission for which was submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2012.
The SER “identified what would occur in the unlikely event of a small break loss of coolant accident (LOCA) in the Westinghouse SMR,” the company said in a statement. It also involved designs for a shut-down process should a leak event occur.
Westinghouse, a group company of Toshiba Corporation, noted that the potential for an intermediate or large break LOCA “is eliminated in the Westinghouse SMR design, because there are no large primary penetrations of the reactor vessel or large loop piping.”
The Westinghouse SMR is a 225 MWe integral pressurized water reactor with all primary components located inside of the reactor vessel.
The Westinghouse SMR is derived from the AP1000 plant, which received a design certification amendment from the NRC in 2011. Eight AP1000 units are currently under construction at four sites in the United States and China.
New markets in Europe?
As for customers, until the firm pulled the plug a year ago, it just had one, which was Ameren’s Callaway site near St. Louis. Now it may have a new opportunity for its SMRs replacing aging coal fired plants in Poland. According to a NucNet wire report for March 8, Poland is probably the biggest single nuclear market in eastern Europe, with plans for up to 11 nuclear reactors by 2030,
Mike Kirst, Westinghouse vice-president, strategy and external relations for Europe, said in a TV interview Poland does not have any nuclear plants today.
“But when you look at the total needs of the country and at the alternatives, it’s now 90% coal-based electricity, facing ever-more stringent CO2 requirements, putting them into an energy security conundrum.”
He said Poland is looking at a solution where the nuclear equation comes in, and they have spoken of potentially up to 11 nuclear reactors by 2030.
“I don’t think this is going to happen at that scale and in this timeframe, but I think the vision is roughly correct. That’s going to probably be the biggest market.”
While some might think Poland has in mind building 11 of the 1000 MW variety reactors, at $6 billion each, it is more likely it might build 11 of the 225 MW SMRs at about $1.3 billion each. This difference means Poland could replace 11 coal fired plants, and their CO2 emissions, for roughly the cost of two of the 1000 MW units and in less time.
The numbers are interesting. The next step is up to Poland.
Update from Rod Adams at Atomic Insights
“Westinghouse’s March 17 press release also created some additional confusion among those who follow the new nuclear plant development industry closely. The announcement did not indicate that Westinghouse has altered its previously announced plan to put its W-SMR design on hold, carefully preserving the option of dusting it off for submission.”
“A source within the company confirmed that Westinghouse continues to keep close tabs on the potential market and has seen nothing that would cause it to change its current course of action. Its SMR design effort remains on hold in a condition that will allow it to complete a design certification application about a year after the company decides to restart the effort. That decision has not been made.”
“The issuance of the final topical report safety evaluation for the small break LOCA PIRT was good news, but it was actually overdue news about a document review process that the company had started in April of 2012.”
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