Increasing interest in SMRs

8 November 2015

Update on recent small modular reactor development, with a focus on the UK.

US small modular reactor (SMR) designer, NuScale Power, is expanding its use of engineering simulation solutions from ANSYS, the company said on 5 November. The new multi-year agreement will provide NuScale with access to a broad range of ANSYS's engineering simulation solutions to accelerate design and minimise time to market in developing SMR prototypes. The NuScale SMR is a 160MWt, 50MWe integral pressurised water reactor (PWR) with natural circulation.

NuScale will use ANSYS technology to simulate designs for module containment, thermal hydraulics and structural integrity of reactor power modules, instead of solely relying on costly physical prototypes and testing. NuScale executive vice-president Tom Mundy told Nuclear Energy Insider that the company aims to use advanced manufacturing techniques, savings on facility costs and economies of scale to reduce the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of its plants to $90/MWh.

NuScale is developing its technology with a cost-sharing award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) worth $217m over five years. NuScale plans to deliver its first commercial plant in late 2023 at an LCOE of $100/MWh, Nuclear Energy Insider reported. The 600MWe plant will comprise 50MWe modules and will be delivered to owner-operator Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to coincide with expected closures of fossil-fuelled generating assets. NuScale is on track to submit a design lience application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2016 and its first customer, Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems, plans to submit a construction and operating licence (COL) application late in 2017 or early 2018 for the first unit.

Focus on UK

NuScale Power also announced that it will be promoting 2016 summer internship opportunities for students at the UKJ's University of Sheffield Engineering Graduate Recruitment & Placement Fair taking place on 4 and 5 November. The programme, a partnership between Oregon State University and the University of Sheffield, will provide students with fully funded research placements at NuScale's operational base in Corvallis, Oregon where the company is developing its SMR technology. NuScale opened its UK office in January.

On 5 October NuScale said it aimed to deploy its SMR technology in the UK with the first of its 50MWe units in operation by the mid-2020s and is looking for partners. The company also hopes to apply for a generic design assessment in the UK in 2017/18. NuScale - majority-owned by Fluor, which has a significant base at Farnborough - has worked on fuel design development with the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and has collaborated with Rolls-Royce on skills issues. It is discussing technology development with the UK's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Other SMR designers have shown increasing interest in the UK. US-based Westinghouse Electric Company in October suggested a partnership with the UK government on the deployment of SMR technology. Westinghouse, part of Japan's Toshiba group, said it had already presented the UK with a proposal intended to complement phase two of a study being carried out by the government into the viability of SMRs.

That study aims to identify key criteria needed to underpin any future SMR policy decision. The government said the study is intended to set out the potential parameters of "a techno-economic assessment" that could be used to assess SMRs. Phase one - an SMR feasibility studycommissioned by the government and carried out by NNL- was published in December 2014. It recommended a more in-depth analysis to establish the "robust evidence base needed to enable a policy decision on SMRs and help [the] government decide whether it wants to pursue a UK SMR programme".

Westinghouse's SMR design is a 225MWe integral PWR with all primary components inside the reactor vessel. In addition to its design, Westinghouse said it would bring to the partnership the volumes of testing and analysis upon which its SMR is based. Westinghouse proposed a partnership structured as a UK-based enterprise jointly owned by Westinghouse, the UK government and UK industry.

A UK parliamentary committee said after publication the study in December, that the technology could potentially have a key role to play in delivering low carbon energy at a lower upfront capital cost than large conventional nuclear reactors. The commercial viability of SMRs however remains unclear, it added. The government later said that the second phase of work is intended to provide the technical, financial and economic evidence base required to support a policy decision on SMRs.

A recent report by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), 'The role for nuclear within a low carbon energy system', said SMRs of 50-300MWe could play a key role in a low-carbon energy system in the UK by delivering combined heat and power, helping to decarbonise energy use in buildings. But it points out that future nuclear technologies will only be deployed if there is a market need and if these technologies provide the most cost-effective solution.

Meanwhile, at a side event held as part of its General Conference in September, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presented its work on developing a technology roadmap for small and modular reactor deployment, to provide member states with generic pathways. There are about 45 SMR designs under development around the world, half of them under preparation for deployment over the next ten years. The first three SMRs with advanced technologies are expected to become operational over the next four years: KLT-40S in Russia, HTR-PM in China, and the CAREM reactor in Argentina.

The KLT-40S is a 150MWt PWR designed for floating nuclear power plants based on the standard KLT-40 icebreaker reactor, but with advanced features aimed at increasing safety and reliability, with upgraded components and safety systems, including use of passive features and low-enriched uranium for fuel.

China's HTR-PM is a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. Construction of the first demonstration unit began last year at Shidaowan in Shandong province.

Carem-25, a domestically-designed and developed 25MWe small PWR with natural coolant circulation, is under construction on a site next to the Atucha nuclear plant.

First concrete was poured for Argentina's CAREM-25 in February 2014
NuScale reactor diagram
Tests have already been carried out on the Westinghouse SMR fuel

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