US consortium calls for public-private SMR support

20 February 2017

A consortium of small modular reactor (SMR) developers and customers has issued a policy statement setting out the benefits of public-private partnerships to facilitate the commercialisation and export of US-designed SMRs.

The SMR Start consortium, which was launched in January 2016, said SMRs were a "strategic option" for the US to meet the need for new generation capacity from the mid-2020s onwards. Commercialisation of new nuclear technologies involves large upfront first-of-a-kind costs and a relatively long timeframe to complete licensing and design activities, the consortium said. Investment of such amounts, over the timeframes required and without contractual commitments, presented a "unique challenge" to companies, the consortium said.

Public-private partnerships - similar to those that provide support for the introduction of other new energy technologies - would help ensure the successful commercialisation of SMRs, the consortium said, stimulating the private investments required to ensure that the technology continues to advance and is capable of competing in overseas markets without additional direct support once the technology matures. "Such partnerships are an appropriate policy due to the public benefits derived from SMRs that are not valued in the energy markets, such as carbon-free generation and improved electricity grid reliability", it said.

The policy document called on the US government to establish public-private partnerships to support the development of two or more SMR designs, the deployment of four or more commercial SMR facilities domestically, and the development of a domestic supply chain to support the SMR market, including the export of SMRs.

It said the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) SMR Licensing Technical Support (LTS) program, providing initial funding of up to $452 million on a cost share basis, was "much appreciated but not sufficient in the current business environment to achieve large-scale SMR commercialisation." It called for the LTS program, scheduled to end in fiscal 2017, to be expanded to cover design finalisation as well as licensing and to be extended to fiscal 2025, "with a commensurate increase in funding".

Public-private partnerships could support the deployment of SMRs through a combination of production tax credits, power purchase agreements and loan guarantees, the consortium said. Technology development could be supported through grid security and reliability programs and accelerated through access to and support from national laboratories.

Investment tax credits (ITC) could support investments in SMR design and construction, and "kick-start" a supply chain and the manufacturing of components for both domestic and international SMR markets. "One SMR designer has invested in excess of $300 million in a state-of-the-art purpose-built SMR manufacturing facility in the US", it noted. "An SMR ITC should be established to incentivise investments in US SMR manufacturing facilities. This is similar in amount to the ITC for renewable energy sources", it said.

"Private companies and DoE have invested over $1 billion in the development of SMRs. However, more investment, through public-private partnerships is needed in order to assure that SMRs are a viable option in the mid-2020s. In addition to accomplishing the public benefit from SMR deployment, the federal government would receive a return on investment through taxes associated with investment, job creation and economic output over the lifetime of the SMR facilities that would otherwise not exist without the US government's investment," the consortium said.

SMRs can generally be described as nuclear reactors with a typical capacity of 300 MWe equivalent or less, designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, allowing economies of series production and short construction times. The DoE has supported their development through several initiatives.

Earlier this year NuScale Power submitted the first-ever SMR design certification application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with a preferred site identified at the Idaho National Laboratory for a potential first-of-a-kind reactor. The regulator has also accepted for review from the Tennessee Valley Authority an application for an early site permit for a potential SMR at Clinch River in Tennessee. The application was developed with the support of the DoE's LTS program.

SMR Start was established by SMR vendors and potential customers to advocate for SMRs in the USA. Its members are Areva, Bechtel, BWXT, Dominion, Duke Energy, Energy Northwest, Fluor, Holtec International, NuScale Power, Ontario Power Generation, PSEG Nuclear, Southern Nuclear, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. The US Nuclear Energy Institute collaborates with the consortium on policies and priorities relating to SMR technology.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News