UK gets ready for Small Modular Reactors

Two significant US vendors, Westinghouse and NuScale, are making serious efforts to develop the market for SMRs in the UK

With a major effort to build 19 GWe of large nuclear reactors over the next two decades, the UK appears to be headed towards doubling down on its atomic energy bet with a push to open up opportunities for small modular reactors (SMRs). UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd told Parliament in November that SMRs have “excellent” potential and that the current government of UK Prime Minister David Cameron “is doing as much as it can” to support the technology.

Nuclear Engineering International magazine reports for 11/16/15 that the UK government has announced £250m ($378m) funding over the next five years for nuclear research and development including a competition to to identify the “best value small modular reactor design for the UK”.

The competition will be launched in the new year, which will “pave the way towards building one of the world’s first small modular reactors in the UK in the 2020s”, the Treasury said.

The UK is doubling funding for the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC’s) energy innovation programme to £500m over five years, including research into SMRs.

The Guardian newspaper reported November 24 that a government funded report from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) released this time last year indicates “there is a very significant market” for SMRs to meet the needs of up to 7 Gwe of generating capacity by 2035.

SMRs come in various sizes in the range of 50-300 MW. The NNL estimates the value of the SMR market in the UK could be worth {L}250-400 billion. While the cost of building an SMR currently runs about the same per Kw as their larger cousins, their size makes them affordable to utilities that cannot take on the “bet the company” risk of a 1000 MW plant.

Also, a factory that cranks out SMRs on a production line like autos can dramatically lower the cost per Kw compared to 1000 MW units. Both Westinghouse and NuScale are looking closely at supply chain partners to pursue this objective.

Westinghouse revives its SMR effort in the UK

While the US based firm put its SMR effort with Ameren on ice in winter 2014, this past October the company submitted an unsolicited proposal to partner with the UK government to license and deploy its 225 MW LWR which has a design that puts all the components inside the reactor pressure vessel (RPV). The design uses a passive safety system to address emergency cooling. The entire facility is built underground.

The heart of the Westinghouse proposal is a “shared design development model” that would engage the UK government and UK companies like Sheffield Forgemasters International Ltd. (SFIL). The firm is one of a handful of British companies to fabricate safety critical cast and forged components within nuclear power stations. In 2010 the two firms tried to convince the UK government to provide a major loan to the firm to allow it to build a capability to forge the extremely large components needed for full size nuclear reactors.

Since SMRs are much smaller, the forging capabilities needed to build RPVs for them are similarly downsized in terms of manufacturing requirements. This makes the possibility of new financing more likely though so far the UK government hasn’t formally responded to the Westinghouse proposal.

Westinghouse would have to take its SMR reactor through the UK’s notoriously lengthy and costly generic design review to get a license to build them. However, the company says that since its SMR borrows many design features from the AP1000, which has mostly completed the process, it could shave a year off the process for the SMR.

NuScale sets sail for UK market

US-based NuScale, which is rapidly making progress toward submitting its design to the NRC for safety review next year, is looking for partners to deploy its 50 MW SMR in the UK. NuScale Chairman and CEO John Hopkins told World Nuclear News in October that it wants to develop an aggressive timetable to deploy its SMRs across the pond. He said the firm is scouting for appropriate sites and seeking partners for investment and to help develop its supply chain. NuScale has opened an office in London.

NuScale is planning to leverage a relationship it has with the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) through its major investor the Fluor Corp. That company has worked on nuclear fuel design with the NNL. With an eye toward a supply chain, the firm is partnered with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.

One of the reasons NuScale is expanding its presence overseas is that it’s key bet is to develop factory based manufacturing of SMRs which will sharply decrease the cost of a new 50 MW nuclear reactor relative to the cost per KW compared to its 1000 MW cousins. To get a full order book to justify building the factory, it will need customers beyond the US.

The UK is the most likely market as it has the most robust and practical commitment to nuclear energy outside of China and Russia. India is fading as a market for new nuclear reactors due to its draconian nuclear liability law and the immense political and financial influence of its existing coal mine operators.

According to NuScale nuclear power plant using NuScale’s technology is comprised of individual NuScale Power Modules™, each producing 50 megawatts of electricity (gross) with its own factory-built combined containment vessel and reactor vessel, and its own packaged turbine-generator set.

A power plant can include as many as 12 NuScale Power Modules to produce as much as 600 MWe. The reactor coolant is driven by natural circulation and can be shut down safely with no operator action, no AC or DC power, and no external water supply. NuScale power plants are scalable – additional modules are added as customer demand for electricity increases. NuScale’s technology also is intended for customers who want to supply energy for district heating, desalination, and other applications.

NuScale announces fuel manufacturing contract with Areva

NuScale announced on December 2 that it has signed a contract with Areva for the French state-owned nuclear firm to manufacture fuel assemblies at its Richland, WA, plant for SMRs. Areva will supply the initial cores for NuScale’s 50 MW SMRs as well as fuel reloads.

Areva has designed nuclear fuel and assemblies specifically for SMRs. Mechanical and hydraulic testing is underway as part of NuScale’s development of a submission in late 2016 to the NRC for a safety design review.

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