As costs drop, power increases, SMRs may ride like the wind

  • NuScale Power LogoNuScale announces a 20% increase in electrical output combined with a significant decrease in the cost
  • NuScale in an exclusive Q&A provides more details on its power and cost changes to the SMR’s design

NuScale, which is developing a small modular reactor, has just announced that it has revised its design to offer 20% more electrical output and at the same time it has reduced the cost to deliver each unit by $800/Kw.

These developments may point to new opportunities for wind developers to co-locate their projects with SMRs to keep the grid humming. Affordable SMRs may open opportunities to utilities which cannot invest in ‘bet the company’ efforts for full size projects.

Summary of NuScale Press Statement

NuScale Power announces its small modular reactor (SMR) can generate 20 percent more power than originally planned. Advanced testing and modeling tools helped NuScale identify optimization opportunities and increased power generation.

According to the statement, increasing the power generating capacity of a 12-module NuScale SMR plant by 20 percent, with very minimal change in capital costs, lowers the cost of the facility on a per kilowatt basis from an expected $5,000 to approximately $4,200.

It also lowers NuScale’s levelized cost of electricity by up to 18 percent, making it even more competitive with other electricity generation sources. The new gross-output of a NuScale power plant to 720 MWe (12 60 MW units) only offers an impressive amount of carbon-free generation. It also measures up to significant savings when compared to today’s competing gigawatt-size plants.  It has the potential to make nuclear power affordable for a much wider range of electric utilities.

NuScale’s first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), is planning the development of a 12-module NuScale plant.

The regulatory process of increasing the level of maximum reactor power at which a nuclear plant can operate is referred to as a power uprate. The 20 percent power increase will be reviewed separately. The firm said it wil not impact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) current design review of NuScale’s SMR or the scheduled September 2020 approval date of its Design Certification Application (DCA). (See Q&A below)

Since NuScale has made this determination before any plant construction or equipment manufacture, UAMPS will reap the benefit of this optimization without licensing or construction delays.

In January, NuScale announced the NRC agreed NuScale’s SMR design approach requires no safety-related power to safely shut down. No operating nuclear plant in the U.S. can make that claim.

The NRC also recently completed its Phase 1 review of NuScale’s DCA. It’s the most rigorous of the remaining five phases combined and resulted in just one-third the average number of requests for additional information compared to other applicants, demonstrating the simplicity of NuScale’s SMR design and the quality of its application.

NuScale’s first plant will be operational in the mid-2020s.

The majority investor in NuScale is Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR), a global engineering, procurement, and construction company with a 60-year history in commercial nuclear power.

Exclusive Q&A with NuScale about its Announcement

(NB) NeutronBytes posed a series of questions to (NS) NuScale via email. The firm replied. All of the questions and the unedited answers from NuScale follow below. Formatting has been added to set off the questions from the answers.

NB: Is it correct to call the fuel with a higher level of enrichment “high burnup fuel” or is there another name for it?

NS: Fuel “burnup” is a term used to describe how much uranium has been utilized in a reactor and is represented in gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (GWd/MTU). The longer the fuel spends in the reactor, the higher the burnup. The enrichment level of fuel is the weight percent of U235, which is different than burnup, and is limited by regulation to less than 5% for commercial nuclear power plants. To support a power uprate, the enrichment level of the fuel will increase slightly, but remain below the 5% limit. The average burnup will remain about the same.

NB: Does the new fuel change the number of fuel assemblies in the reactor? How many fuel assemblies does it now use?  Same, more, or less?

NS: The number of fuel assemblies remains unchanged at 37.

NB: Does the new fuel extend the time between fuel outages and if so what is the delta between the old timeline and the new one?  What would be a typical timeframe between outages?  Is this a key competitive factor for customers?

There is no change to the length of the operating cycle before refueling.  A refueling outage nominally takes 10 days every two years per power module. In the modular NuScale design, the remaining eleven power modules continue to operate generating power while the twelfth module is being refueled. Essentially, the facility can still provide 92% power while one module is out of service for refueling. This short outage duration and continued facility generation is a key competitive factor not found in other SMRs.

NB: Does the new fuel produce more steam? At a higher temperature or pressure?  If so did you have to make changes to the steam generator or turbine designs?

NS: The fuel is producing more energy, which does produce more steam in the steam generators, resulting in higher electrical output. This did not require changes to the steam generator. Of course the turbine needs to be able to support the higher output, so the specification for the turbine and generator are changed.

NB: How many units do you need in your order book to convince investors to put up the money for a factory as compared to First of a Kind (FOAK) builds of units at the Idaho site (12 planned).  For example, what would it cost today to build a factory today if you had orders for three more sites, e.g., total build out of 36 reactor units? Is that a big enough number to bring investors to the table?

NuScale itself does not have current plans to build a factory to fabricate NuScale Power Modules™ (NPMs). NuScale is currently in the process of selecting a fabrication partner to fabricate the NPMs. Any investment in additional factory capacity will be undertaken by the NPM fabricator. Utilizing a diverse supply chain, there is substantial fabrication capacity available today for the first several NuScale plants. Securing or constructing additional factory capacity will be a function of the expected timing for the fulfillment of additional orders.

Investor discussions are business sensitive and remain confidential.

NB: what factors are the top three technically that account for the majority of the announced cost reduction?

NS: NuScale has completed more than $70 million dollars in hardware tests, including comprehensive testing of the fuel and helical coil steam generators. The data obtained in these test programs has been used to validate and refine the predictive capability of our advanced thermal hydraulic safety analysis computer codes.  Based on the refined state-of-the-art computer modeling now available, NuScale was able to demonstrate a 20% power increase while fully satisfying design and regulatory requirements.

NB: Please explain how a 20% power uprate does not change the design basis for the reactor relative to the DCA?

NuScale’s DCA will proceed to approval without the 20% uprate. However, we are preparing a Standard Design Approval (SDA) for review and approval by the NRC to accommodate the uprate. This allows U.S. customers to decide if they wish to proceed initially with the DCA power level and uprate or include the SDA in their COLA. The power modules will be identical whether operated at 160 MWt (50 MWe) or 200MWt (60 MWe).

Premier Technology Breaks Ground on New Expansion

The Idaho State Journal reports Premier Technology in Blackfoot held a groundbreaking ceremony this week for its new 70,000-square-foot, $15 million facility expansion.

Premier Technology is currently a finalist for a new small modular reactor manufacturing site, which if secured would provide the company with small modular reactor contracts from around the country.  Most significantly, the firm hopes to be a supplier to NuScale which will build its FOAK SMRs just up the road at a site located at the Idaho National Laboratory.

“In 1997, when we founded the company, we rented a small shop over on Garrett Way, and it was 5,000 square feet,” Sayer said. “We had half a dozen employees. So we’ll continue to grow.”

The expansion is a result of an increased number of contracts and customers and will quadruple capacity.

Doug Sayer, an executive with the firm, said what he was “most excited” about was the investment in automated equipment. According to Sayer, about $10 million of the $15 million expansion will be invested in the new equipment.

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4 Responses to As costs drop, power increases, SMRs may ride like the wind

  1. Pingback: As costs drop, power increases, SMRs may ride like the wind - Neutron Bytes - Pro-Nuclear Power Blogs - Nuclear Street - Nuclear Power Plant News, Jobs, and Careers

  2. Everyone wants to know:  is any of this hydrodynamic improvement due to use of LightBridge fuel?

    Liked by 1 person

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