view counter

Nuclear powerDOE promotes small-nuclear reactors (SMRs)

Published 26 September 2012

South Carolina’s Savannah River Site (SRS) located in Aiken, along with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have announced three partnerships to develop three small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at the SRS facility; SMRs produce less energy than a regular reactor, but they produce enough energy to power small cities and remote areas

South Carolina’s Savannah River Site (SRS) located in Aiken, along with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have announced three partnerships to develop three small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at the SRS facility.

The DOE released a statement saying the agreement “will help leverage Savannah River’s land assets, energy facilities and nuclear expertise to support potential private sector development, testing and licensing of prototype SMR technologies.”

Helen Belecan, DOE’s deputy assistant manager for infrastructure and environmental stewardship at the SRS facility, told Government Technology the goal of the reactors are “to apply the nuclear knowledge and expertise that we have from over 60 years of supporting the nation in its defense-type operation in nuclear material production and help these companies develop the technology and manufacturing capability in the United States so that the United States can take on a leadership role in the manufacturing of these small modular reactors.”

DOE will focus on the advancing SMRs in the United States. $450 million “will be made available to support first-of its kind engineering, design decertification and licensing for up to two SMR designs over five years, subject to congressional appropriations,” DOE says.

Proposals for funding were received in May and are being reviewed to see which proposal will meet the standards of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The DOE plans to announce the recipients later this year.

A SMR is about one-third the size of a regular nuclear reactor and is built at a fraction of the cost. A traditional single-unit nuclear reactor costs roughly $8 billion dollars to build and that number jumps to $14 billion for twin reactors. SMRs produce less energy than a regular reactor, but they produce enough energy to power small cities and remote areas.

Thomas Sander, an associate laboratory director for the Clean Energy Imitative and the Savannah River National Laboratory, told Government Technology the first SMR will cost almost $1 billion, but the price will drop down the line.

“If you are talking about the 100th, my expectation is that cost is going to be reduced significantly as a result of advance factory manufacturing and just a learning process and the licensing process.”

 “If you are going after the old coal replacement market, you are looking at 150 to 200 megawatts on average,” Sander said, “but if you are looking at the Alaskan market for small cities or island market or export market for developing countries, you are talking 45 to 100 megawatts.”

The DOE is beginning to sign off on SMR’s for nuclear energy technology, and the government has began to approve projects around the country. DOE spokeswoman Niketa Kumar told Government Technology these new projects will allow the U.S. to compete with other countries in nuclear energy.

“Manufacturing domestically can offer the United States the ability to compete globally in the nuclear energy technology market and advance our nations competitive edge in manufacturing future clean energy technology.”