TVA is First Mover for SMR Early Site Permit

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has submitted an application for an Early Site Permit (ESP) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a small modular reactor (SMR) which could be built at the Clinch River site in Tennessee. 

It is the first application of its type to be submitted to the regulatory agency. The ESP is for a 1,200 acre site about 25 miles southwest of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and nearby Knoxville, TN.

While approval would speed up processing of a follow-on application for a combined construction and operating license (COL) for an SMR, the ESP itself does not authorize TVA to build and operate an SMR.

The ESP has a “shelf life” of 10-20 years as long as there are no major changes to the conditions cited in the permit once it is issued by the NRC. Typically, the agency takes about 1-2 years to complete its review of an ESP application.

Also, the ESP does not require TVA to reference a specific reactor design other than its approximate power rating or size.  TVA has cited four SMR light water design concepts without stating a preference for any of them. Typically, SMR’s are rated at 300 MW or less (electrical) as compared to full size reactors like the Westinghouse AP 1000 which is rated at 1150 MW.

TVA’s senior manager for SMRs, Dan Stout, told World Nuclear News on May 16 that the utility is “several years away” from a decision to actually proceed with a COL application. Earlier this year TVA published an updated Integrated Resource Plan which said that it could be as long as 20 years before it would need new nuclear capacity.

That determination figured into TVA’s decision not to complete either of the partially built Bellefonte reactors in Scottsboro, AL. The site, with all of its infrastructure, will be auctioned off later this year. No nuclear fuel was ever brought to the site when the reactors were under construction.

What may not be well known is that TVA’s work on the SMR ESP is being co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under a five-year program. DOE is also supporting via cost sharing NuScale’s work on design and licensing of its 50 MW SMR which is slated to be located at a site at Idaho National Laboratory.

  • Update on B&W SMR Effort

In April 2014 Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) slashed funding for its Generation mPower program, which was part of a joint effort with TVA to design and license a 180 MW small modular reactor (SMR) for power generation and other applications. The decision by B&W was seen at the time as representing a major blow to the development of SMRs. The firm cited a lack of favorable market conditions as the basis for its decision.

The firm also walked away reduced its spending on SMR development work from over $80 million a year to less than $15 million. It laid off about 200 employees from the project.

In March 2016 Bechtel and BWXT issued a press release re-stating the fundamentals of their partnership to design, license, and sell to customers a small modular reactor (SMR). In a regulatory filing it sent to the SEC the company reaffirmed its spending for SMR work would be sustained at the $10 million/year level.

So what’s changed? In an exclusive interview, both firms agreed to answer a series of  questions. Here are their answers to the questions posed by this blog. Among other things, Bechtel will be helping B&W develop market opportunities for its mPower design. Read the interview for complete details.

NRC to Establish Separate Fees for Small Modular Reactors

The NRC is amending its regulations to establish a separate fee structure for light-water small modular reactors (SMRs). The reason is that it anticipates that it will receive SMR license applications including one from NuScale by the end of 2016. Under this fee structure, an SMR’s annual fee will be based on how much power it is licensed to generate.

NuScale’s design is for 50 MW. Other SMRs under development in the U.S., based on light water reactor technology, include B&W’s mPower at 180 MW, a 160 MW design by Holtec, and a design by Westinghouse for one at 225 MW.

Without this separate fee structure, an SMR would have been required to pay the same annual fee as a large operating light-water reactor. The fee structure for SMRs complies with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, which requires that NRC fees be “fairly and equitably” allocated among its licensees.

The NRC published the proposed rule, “Variable Annual Fee Structure for Small Modular Reactors,” in the Federal Register for public comment on Nov. 4, 2015, and held a public meeting on Nov. 16, 2015. The final rule will become effective June 23, 2016.

First Criticality for Watts Bar II

TVA’s Watts Bar II nuclear reactor, located near Spring City, TN, has reached first criticality. The reactor achieved first criticality – its first sustained nuclear fission reaction – at 2:16 am EDT 5/23/16. TVA said that the unit will slowly increase it power as it moves towards commercial operation. The unit is expected to enter revenue later this summer.

Work began on 1,165 MW PWR reactor in 1972, but stopped in 1985 at which time is was half built. TVA restarted work on the unit in 2007, awarding an EPC contract to Bechtel.

TVA received an operating license for the unit from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in October 2015 and fuel loading was completed in December.

The total estimated project cost of $4.7 billion was approved by TVA’s board in February. NRC requirements for post-Fukushima changes, including for emergency power, spent fuel pool instrumentation, and cyber security measures, increased the cost to complete the reactor by $125 million.

PSEG Gets ESP for New Jersey Site

The NRC has approved an Early Site Permit for a new nuclear reactor to be built at a site on the shore of the Delaware River in far southwestern New Jersey.  The ESP, which is good for 20 years, does not reference a specific reactor design.  However, the utility has said its plans, should they be pursued at a future time, likely involved a full size nuclear reactor.

Joe Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG, told the news site NJ.COM on April 28, “Though we have no immediate plans for construction, we continue to believe that nuclear plays an important role today and also in the future in meeting New Jersey and America’s clear air goals. These goals cannot be achieved without nuclear power.”

The three reactors currently located at the site in Lower Alloways Creek Township constitute the second largest nuclear power station in the U.S.  Only Palo Verde in Arizona is larger. The cost of a new reactor at the NJ site is estimated to be about $10 billion in current dollars.

Separately, the Oyster Creek reactor, operated by Exelon on New Jersey’s Atlantic Ocean coastline, is one of the nation’s oldest, and is slated to be closed by the end of this decade.

PPL Bell Bend COL Application Clears Environmental Review

The NRC has determined that issuing a license to PPL for development of one or more full size nuclear reactors at the proposed Bell Bend site on the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County, PA will not create any adverse environmental impacts.

The corresponding safety review has been suspended since 2014. The reason is that the project referenced the Areva 1600 MW EPR.  The NRC design safety review of that reactor was suspended at Areva’s request.

At one time Areva was proposing to build four of its reactor units in the U.S. The other three were slated to be at sites in Maryland, Missouri, and New York. The firm’s over extended financial position globally precipitated a collapse of its fortunes in the U.S.  It also cancelled construction of a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant in Idaho.

For the Bell Bend project to re-start, a number of vectors would need to start moving in the right direction.

  • Demand for electricity would have to increase and be seen as sustaining growth over time,
  • The price of natural gas would have to move north of $6-8/MBtu,
  • A more cost competitive reactor design would have to be available to the utility.
  • The government’s clean air policies would have to emerge from court and legislative challenges as a firm policy framework.
  • Finally, the firm has previously stated it would seek federal loan guarantees to pursue construction of a new reactor.

In  a contingency move should this combination of circumstances come to pass, PPL spun off its power generation business in June 2015 creating a new company called Talen Energy Corp.

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