Alaska’s Hot Pursuit of Small Modular Reactors

  • Alaskan Utility and Ultra Safe Nuclear Partnership to Pursue Micro Reactors for Remote Sites
  • Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy Offers Bill to Promote Micro Reactors
  • Oklo and Argonne Lab To Produce New Nuclear Fuels
  • Rolls Royce Inks New Deal for SNC-Lavalin Role in 470 MWe Reactor
  • INL Builds Full-Scale Prototype for Microreactor Project
  • TVA Authorizes $200M for New Nuclear Program to Explore Innovative Technology

Alaskan Utility and Ultra Safe Nuclear Partnership to Pursue Micro Reactors for Remote Sites

copper valley elec logoCopper Valley Electric Association (CVEA) with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp will perform a Feasibility Study of a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy System to potentially be located in Glennallen, Alaska, which is by road 180 bone chilling miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.

The utility is collaborating with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), headquartered in Seattle, WA, to determine the feasibility of building the first commercial installation of a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) Energy System in Alaska.  (press release)

The study, which is expected to take 4-6 months, is designed to determine the technical feasibility, social acceptance, location, cost, and operating specifics of what is projected to be a 10MWe micro facility utilizing innovative advanced nuclear technology. If results are favorable, this will be the first deployment of a civilian microreactor in Alaska.

The cooperative utility provides electrical and heat services to more than 3,800 business and residential customers stretching north 160 miles from Valdez to Glennallen and spanning 100 miles east to west from the Tok Cutoff highway into the northern reaches of the Matanuska Valley.

The utility is not interconnected to any other electric utility grid and is dependent on expensive and volatilely priced liquid fossil fuels to provide 30% of the Cooperative’s annual generation requirements, virtually in all the winter months when less hydropower is available. For this reason, it would like to get out of the business of burning fossil fuels. This project is the start of that journey.

An objective of CVEA’s strategic plan, approved by its Board of Directors in 2021, is to reduce the Cooperative’s reliance on liquid fossil fuels in favor of a cleaner, economic power supply while increasing energy independence.

Priorities for the utility are to study the application of MMR technology in decarbonizing the utility’s energy portfolio, increasing efficiency, lowering the cost of operations and stabilizing winter rates when an increase in diesel generation would be necessary.”

This project is intended to replace liquid fossil fuel generation and result in a significant reduction of CO2 and other pollutants. In comparison to traditional nuclear power plants, USNC’s MMR uses virtually no water, produces less nuclear waste, and utilizes fuel that is virtually indestructible and specifically engineered to not leak radioactive products or experience meltdown.

CEO Travis Million said, “CVEA and USNC will engage with communities and hope to earn their support by listening to and considering local interests throughout all phases of the project.”

Intentional, community-based conversations to offer opportunities for CVEA members and interested Alaskans to ask questions or provide input on the proposed project will take place over the next several months while technical and economic assessments are completed. The feasibility study is expected to be completed this summer.

The USNC microreactor was designed specifically for remote applications that are difficult to support with conventional baseload or renewable power. Although a specific site in Alaska has not been chosen, the MMR is designed to be built offsite and transported for final assembly on a site roughly the size of a baseball field. The fact that a highway exists from Anchorage to Glenallen makes such a project feasible.

The technology of an MMR is based on a design for a fourth-generation nuclear energy system. An MMR can fit inside two 40-foot shipping containers. The reactor core, loaded with a 20-year supply of uranium fuel, is buried underground, upright, next to another module that circulates helium coolant. The helium transfers heat to molten salt, which is pumped to a neighboring steam turbine to drive the generator.

“We want to prove to Alaskans that our technology can meet Alaska’s unique energy needs by providing reliable and clean power to small populations dispersed across vast distances, despite harsh climate, geography, and other environmental conditions,” said USNC CEO, Francesco Venneri.

World Nuclear News reported this week that the next steps following a positive outcome of the feasibility study would be for CVEA and USNC to define a financial framework for the operation and ownership of the plant and for a detailed engineering study to be performed for siting the nuclear plant. This study will inform the process to obtain a license with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the needed state permits.

USNC’s MMR – a 15 MWt, 5 MWe electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor – is currently undergoing licensing in Canada and the USA. Global First Power plans to build and operate an MMR unit at Chalk River Laboratories in Canada by 2026, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has informed the NRC (ML21188A392) that it intends to construct an MMR on its campus to support R&D functions and power generation.

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Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy Offers Bill to Promote Micro Reactors

usnc alaskaAlaskan Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced the first bill in a package of energy legislation intended to promote energy independence, long-term cost reductions, and competitive markets in both urban and rural Alaska.

Senate Bill 177 will allow communities across Alaska to explore new opportunities related to microreactors. Ranging from just 0.1% to 5% of the power output of traditional nuclear power facilities, microreactors are the subject of much research across four national labs with over 20 different prototypes in various stages of development.  (Bill Summary in FAQ format) SB 177 was referred to the Senate Resources and Senate Community and Regional Affairs committees.

Two significant projects are already being planned in Alaska at Eielson Air Force Base and in Valdez with the support of the Copper Valley Electric Association. The US Air Force has plans to deploy a 5 MWe small modular reactor at Eielson Air Force Base in 2027.

“Twelve percent of the planet’s sustainable microgrid power is produced right here in the Last Frontier. No one out-innovates Alaskans,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy.

“For communities seeking more options to end their dependence on diesel and heating oil, we want to ensure that our statutes give them the opportunity to explore what many experts believe may be a generational leap forward in terms of clean, reliable, and cost-effective off-grid power.”

“Copper Valley Electric Association supports the governor’s legislation to streamline the State’s permitting process for microreactors. With a feasibility study already underway in Valdez, this legislation ensures Alaska remains on track to be an early leader in microreactor technology,” said Copper Valley Electric Association CEO Travis Million.

Operating more like a battery than a traditional reactor, a microreactor can be delivered to a remote site, provide electricity and district heating (a centralized heating system for communities) for over a decade, and then be returned to the manufacturer for replacement along with all generated waste.

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Oklo and Argonne Lab To Produce New Nuclear Fuels

Oklo and Argonne National Laboratory have signed an agreement to commercialize advanced fuel recycling. The agreement marks a milestone in the commercialization of advanced fuel recycling.

Under the $2 million cost-share award, Oklo will match $1 million in funds and partner with the DOE and Argonne National Laboratory to help commercialize advanced fuel recycling capabilities.

Electrorefining technology has the capability to markedly reduce fuel costs for advanced fission while establishing a crucial supply chain for the deployment of clean power plants.  (briefing on electrorefining – PDF file)

The project involves work with electrorefining technology to recycle fuel for use in advanced fission power plants. Oklo is matching DOE funding for commercializing electrorefining technology, which will help reduce fuel costs for advanced fission, while reducing supply chain risks.

According Oklo, thermal reactors access a fraction of the energy found in fuel. In contrast Oklo notes, fast reactors, when combined with electrorefining technology, can unlock the remaining energy in fuel while reducing waste materials’ volume and radiological lifetime.

“This partnership with Argonne will help reduce fuel costs for advanced reactors, and therefore overall costs for power from advanced fission,” said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo.

Oklo has promoted the use of its mini reactor for remote sites like communities in Alaska that currently are off-the-grid and rely on fossil fuels to produce electrical power.

The partnership is an outcome of a cost-share project awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF), authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The TCF leverages R&D funding in the applied energy programs to mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact.

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Rolls Royce Inks New Deal for SNC-Lavalin Role in 470 MWe Reactor

SNC-Lavalin (TSX: SNC) has been appointed an engineering supplier by Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor Ltd (SMR). Building on its role as a Phase One partner in the original UK SMR consortium, SNC-Lavalin will now provide Rolls-Royce SMR with engineering services and specialist support.

Rolls-Royce SMR is developing low-cost, low-carbon nuclear 470 MW mid range nuclear reactors that could play a significant role in domestic and international decarbonization targets, with plans to have the first UK plant operational by the early 2030s.

During the first phase of the program, Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, led the unique modular design of the SMR power station which will be critical to its success.  About 90% of the manufacturing and assembly activities are carried out in factory conditions, significantly reducing cost and build time.

As an approved supplier, SNC-Lavalin’s UK team will now offer civil, structural and architectural support along with safety and regulatory services, waste management, mechanical handling, mechanical and process engineering, project management, and digital services.

“Clean, reliable nuclear power is an important pillar in a net zero energy system, from large nuclear plants to Small Modular Reactors.” said Sandy Taylor, President, Nuclear, SNC-Lavalin.

“SNC-Lavalin’s ongoing support and contribution to the growing Rolls-Royce SMR business is incredibly important. As phase 1 partners they contributed to our development in important areas such as regulation and a breadth of engineering challenges. We look forward to working collaboratively as we target the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMRs and our shared decarbonisation objectives,” commented Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce SMR.

Rolls-Royce SMR 470MW plants have the potential to support both on-grid electricity and off-grid solutions, including the decarbonization of industrial processes and production of clean fuels.

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INL Builds Full-Scale Prototype for Microreactor Project

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) recently built a full-scale, electrically heated prototype to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s new MARVEL microreactor project. The prototype is one of the largest components ever machined at the lab and will be used to help validate the project’s final microreactor design that could be operational within the next two years.

Delivering the Prototype

INL machinists successfully assembled the prototype which is known as a primary coolant apparatus test (PCAT) for the MARVEL microreactor. The PCAT was built in just nine months and is made of several stainless-steel components, including four Stirling engines that will generate electricity through primary and intermediate coolant pumps. It stands 12 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds, making it one of the largest components ever built at the lab’s Materials and Fuels Complex fabrication shop.

The PCAT will be powered by an external electrical power supply, instead of fission, and will be used to ensure the MARVEL design and dynamics performs as expected. Once hardware tests and simulation results are confirmed, the MARVEL team will use modeling and simulation tools to verify and support the reactor’s safety case.

“We use modeling tools to help regulators have confidence in the reactor design, but we can’t model all aspects of the flow and heat dynamics,” said Yasir Arafat, the MARVEL technical and project lead.

“A demonstration is necessary for us to be certain that the final reactor will perform to a high degree of reliability and confidence level.”

The MARVEL Project

MARVEL is a sodium-potassium cooled microreactor that will generate 100-kilowatts of power. The project is on track to be the world’s first contemporary microreactor to be built and demonstrated at INL’s Transient Reactor Test Facility. Fact Sheet

MARVEL will be used to test microreactor applications, develop regulatory approval processes, evaluate systems for remote monitoring, and develop autonomous control technologies.

will also be used to explore and test microreactors capabilities for a wide variety of electrical applications, nonelectric applications such as water purification and low-grade heat production for district heating and greenhouse climate control.

MARVEL is expected to be connected to the world’s first nuclear microgrid at INL by 2024 and available for external researchers soon after. The MARVEL project is funded through the DOE Microreactor Program.

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TVA Authorizes $200M for a New Nuclear Program to Explore Innovative Technology

The Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors ratified approval of a programmatic approach to exploring advanced nuclear technology as a component of its decarbonization goals. Fact Sheet

Key Elements of the Program

  • TVA’s board voted 5-0 to spend up to $200 million to prepare for the potential construction of a  small modular reactor (SMR), the BWRX-300, designed by GE Hitachi. The funds will go to the pre-application process for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The reactor, if built, could begin operation as soon as 2032. TVA has an NRC early site permit for SMRs at the Clinch River plant.
  • TVA will apply a systematic approach to exploring technologies and potential locations for advanced nuclear reactors to support TVA’s decarbonization goal as outlined in its Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles.
  • The New Nuclear Program will oversee a project to prepare an NRC construction license application for a light-water, small modular reactor at the Clinch River site, subject to required environmental reviews and Board approval.
  • TVA will partner with other utilities, government agencies and research institutes to mitigate costs and risks associated with advancing this new technology.

“Achieving a carbon-free energy future is a shared priority and TVA is developing a diverse portfolio of clean energy sources – like advanced nuclear technologies – that will help address this challenge,” said Jeff Lyash, TVA president and chief executive officer.

TVA to Pursue LWR Type SMR

One of the first tasks the New Nuclear Program will pursue is a project to develop a Nuclear Regulatory Commission construction permit application and potentially deploy a light-water small modular reactor at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, which currently holds the only NRC early site permit for SMRs in the nation.

“While we will continue to support and examine all of the various SMR designs being proposed, we believe that light-water SMR designs, which are closely related to the current generation of TVA’s large nuclear units, are more mature and closer to commercial deployment within the next decade,” said Lyash.

“For that reason, we are currently in discussions with GE Hitachi to support their BWRX-300 light-water SMR design, which will help inform a future decision about potential deployment.”

The province of Ontario announced in December it had selected GE Hitachi to build a BWRX 300 MWE SMR in Canada. This is the same reactor that the TVA says it intends to pursue for “potential deployment.

Although no final decisions have been made, the knowledge gained from collaborative efforts with GE Hitachi and others, combined with a draft programmatic environmental impact statement that will be issued in the near future, and will examine various advanced nuclear technologies, will help inform a future TVA Board decision on whether or not to proceed with construction at Clinch River.

What About the Regulations?

Recent experience at NRC with Oklo, a developer of an advanced reactor, illustrates some of the challenges of bringing new technology to the safety design review process under regulations that were never intended to deal with these kinds of innovations.

The NRC well into the process of developing new regulations to cover advanced reactors that are technology-neutral. The objective is to get faster approvals of LWR MRs and other advanced reactors. However, those new rules may not be final before some SMR applications reach the agency for review in which case they might come under Part52 rules. The NRC getting heat from Congress to get the lead out, but the agency just postponed some of its work on the new regulations at the request of key industry stakeholders who apparently aren’t convinced that faster work will result in better regulations that they can live with.

In an interview with the Bloomberg wire service, Amy Roma, a DC based attorney and an expert on nuclear matters, said ,“Being technology neutral is hard when you’re going from very small to very big, and you’re using different fuels and different technologies.” 

TVA operates the nation’s third largest nuclear fleet, which today supplies more than 40% of the energy produced to supply the region.

Prior Coverage on this blog

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1 Response to Alaska’s Hot Pursuit of Small Modular Reactors

  1. I am surprised, pleased, and confused by the $200 million. They already have a site permit. The reactor is in the $1,000 million range. So, 20% the cost of the reactor for what? Maybe, five people for 10 years to manage the project or about $10 million. Maybe, TVA is financing a large part of the NRC license?
    What is the large part of the $200 million.

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