mPower empowered by SMR funds

21 November 2012

The Babcock and Wilcox (B&W) mPower small modular reactor (SMR) has been selected as the winner of a US government program intended to help accelerate the pace at which this new class of power plant is brought to market.

mPower cutaway
Impression of the underground mPower reactor (Image: B&W)

The mPower was one of four SMR designs that competed for a funding opportunity launched by the US Department of Energy (DoE) in March this year. The others were submitted by consortiums led by Westinghouse, NuScale and Holtec.

It was originally announced that the DoE would award $450 million to one or two designs over the course of five years in order to assist with licensing and technical support. However, yesterday's announcements did not confirm the exact level of funding to come from the DoE - which is to be agreed based on negotiation with B&W - nor whether another winner would be announced. The program was modelled after the Nuclear Power 2010 program which accelerated the design and licensing of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor.

At less than 300 MWe in capacity, SMRs are much smaller than typical nuclear reactors and are considered an ideal choice for areas which can't support a larger reactor. The DoE notes that an SMR's compact scalable design offers a host of potential safety, construction and economic benefits.

The selection of the mPower project team (B&W, the Tennessee Valley Authority utility and engineering company Bechtel) has projected it to the forefront of a popular push to develop SMR technology in the country. The team will now enter into a cost share program with the DoE where it will privately match the funding received on at least a one to one basis.

The mPower is a 180 MWe integral pressurized water reactor concept which B&W claim offers benefits in terms of plant safety, security and economics. It can be factory assembled and freighted to a site where it will be fully bunkered in an underground containment building. According to B&W, this process along with the site architecture significantly reduces construction and licensing risk.

Christofer Mowry, President of B&W mPower commented: "We are grateful for the DoE's endorsement of B&W mPower. Our company, our partners, and our industry are working hard to turn the vision of a more practical, flexible and affordable clean energy solution into reality. With the DoE's support, we can deliver this important innovation to the energy industry and our nation more quickly and with less risk."

The DoE has announced plans to issue a follow-on solicitation for SMR funds and the Westinghouse-led consortium - which includes Ameren Missouri and the Missouri Electric Alliance - yesterday quickly confirmed that it is "very much interested" in competing for this.

Government backs nuclear R&D

With the DoE decision, the US government has essentially confirmed its commitment to investing in the country's nuclear future. This support had seemed shaky during an election campaign during which neither of the major candidates made substantive statements on nuclear.

Highlighting government support for nuclear power as a part of multi-portfolio energy approach, energy secretary Stephen Chu remarked on the occasion: "The Obama administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America's energy future. Restarting the nation's nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News