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NuScale Power

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NuScale Power
TypeLimited liability company
IndustryNuclear power
FoundedCorvallis, Oregon, United States
FoundersPaul G. Lorenzini and Jose Reyes
HeadquartersTigard, OR
Key people
John Hopkins (CEO)
ProductsSmall modular reactors
ParentFluor Corporation
Websitewww.nuscalepower.com

NuScale Power is an American private company that designs and markets small modular reactors (SMRs). It is headquartered in Tigard, Oregon, United States. NuScale has been approved to build test reactors in Idaho, in 2029 and 2030.[1]

NuScale's SMR designs are for 9 feet (2.7 m) diameter by 65 feet (20 m) high reactor vessels that use conventional light water cooling methods and runs on low enriched uranium fuel assemblies based on existing light water reactor designs. Each module is intended to be kept in an underground pool and is expected to produce about 60 megawatts of electricity. It uses natural water-circulation that can operate without powered pumps or circulatory equipment but still requires a moving working fluid and a large water reservoir.

NuScale was founded based on research funded by the Department of Energy from 2000 to 2003. After funding was cut, scientists with the program obtained related patents in 2007 and started NuScale to commercialize the technology.

Corporate history[edit]

Early history[edit]

NuScale was founded based on research funded by the US Department of Energy and conducted by Oregon State University, the Idaho National Laboratory, and other colleges[2][3][4] beginning in 2000. At the time, Oregon State's nuclear department had been developing passive water-circulation techniques for cooling in nuclear plants.[5] The research grant ended in 2003, but a group of scientists at Oregon State University continued the work. They built a test lab at one-third the actual scale of the technology and inherited related patents from the university in 2007,[5][6] in exchange for a small equity in the company.[7] NuScale was founded that same year. Its first funding round was in January 2008 for an undisclosed sum.[4] It began seeking certification with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February 2008.[5]

By 2011, NuScale had raised $35 million in financing and had 100 employees in three cities: Tigard, Oregon; Richland, Washington; and Corvallis, Oregon.[8] NuScale was the first to submit plans for small reactors to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission[4] and is the first to have gained approval.[9][10] It was also being evaluated by a consortium of utility companies called Energy Northwest.[11]

Funding difficulties and rebound[edit]

In January 2011, NuScale's largest investor, Kenwood Group, was investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and later pleaded guilty to operating a Ponzi scheme. The SEC investigation was not related to any of Kenwood's dealings with NuScale, but Kenwood's assets were frozen just as NuScale was expecting additional funding. The company started making staffing and pay cuts as executives looked for new funding sources[12][13] and most of the company's employees were laid off within a few months.[14]

That September, NuScale obtained a loan to re-hire 60 employees.[15] In October, Fluor Corporation acquired a majority interest in the company for $3.5 million and promised almost $30 million in working capital.[7] According to The Energy Daily, Fluor's investment saved the company, which had been "financially marooned" by its prior investor.[16] A separate agreement also gave Fluor the rights to construct NuScale-based power plants.[17]

In August 2012, Rolls-Royce Holdings said it would support NuScale's commercialization efforts and help it obtain funding from the Department of Energy's Funding Opportunity Announcement, which is intended to provide funding to help bring SMRs to market.[5] It was not awarded any funding in the first round.[18] In the Department of Energy's (DOE) second round of funding in December 2013, NuScale won up to $226 million in "cost-sharing" funding to share the expense of pursuing government approval, through the SMR Licensing Technical Support program.[19] This was followed by an agreement in May 2014 for up to $217 million in funding over a five-year period, whereby the Department of Energy would match private funding.[20] In December 2012, co-founder and CEO Paul G. Lorenzini was succeeded by current CEO John Hopkins.[21]

Early deployments[edit]

In March 2012, NuScale signed an agreement with the Department of Energy, allowing NuScale and two partners to build and operate a NuScale-based nuclear power plant at the Savannah River Site.[22] The following month Energy Northwest said it didn't have any immediate plans to construct a nuclear power plant, but had evaluated all the available SMR technologies and identified NuScale as the best available option at the time.[23][24]

In July 2013, NuScale announced an effort to study and demonstrate NuScale reactors in the western United States, called Program WIN (Western Initiative for Nuclear),[20] with plans to build the first NuScale-based power plant in the western United States by 2024.[5] In November 2014, NuScale announced it was building what is expected to be the first SMR in the US in Idaho. The plant is for the Carbon Free Power Project with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. The company submitted designs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in January 2017, and if approved hoped to complete its first plant in 2026.[25]

In January 2018, the NRC agreed that the NuScale SMR does not need back-up power.[26]

In August 2020, the NRC issued a final safety evaluation report for NuScale's small modular reactor design, certifying the design as having met the NRC's safety requirements.[9] NuScale plans to apply for a standard design approval of a 60-megawatt-per-module version of the design in 2022, which if accepted will allow the company to pursue its first reactor deployment in the mid-2020s.[27][28]

Reactors[edit]

A diagram of a NuScale small modular reactor (SMR).

NuScale designs and markets small modular nuclear reactors[4] that the Department of Energy projected in 2014 to be commercially available around 2025.[19] Their reactors take 1% of the space of a conventional one and generate just 60 megawatts of power.[29] Its designs use the light water approach to cooling and power generation that is common in conventional nuclear plants. Water is heated by the nuclear core at the base of the reactor vessel. Heated water flows upwards inside the riser, then down over steam generators. As heat is transferred to steam generators, the water becomes cooler and denser, sinking back to the bottom of the device, where the cycle is repeated. Heat transferred to the steam generators is used to create steam that turns a turbine, which drives an electrical generator.[5][19][30]

Each NuScale reactor vessel is expected to be 9 feet (2.7 m) in diameter and 65 feet (20 m) tall, weighing 650 short tons (590 metric tons).[19] The modules would be pre-fabricated, delivered by railcar, barge or special trucks[31] and assembled on-site.[15][32][33][34] The units were designed to produce 60 megawatts[35][36][a] of electricity each and require refueling with standard 4.95 percent enriched uranium-235 fuel every two years.[19]

NuScale's design does not rely on powered water pumps or circulatory equipment.[2][5] The company claims it can shut down and continue cooling itself indefinitely during most accidents.[5][b] The devices are intended to be kept in a below-ground pool, to absorb the shock of earthquakes, with a concrete lid over the pool.[38] In the event that AC power is lost for normal cooling systems, the pool water in the pool begins to absorb heat and boil.[5]

Comparisons[edit]

Full-scale mockup of the upper one-third of the NuScale Power Module

NuScale is expected to be the first SMR to market, because its cooling is similar to the systems used in conventional power plants. However, alternative cooling systems using molten metals are expected to operate at higher, more efficient temperatures once approved.[30] The company estimates a twelve-unit NuScale plant would cost $4,200 (an earlier estimate was $5,000) per kilowatt. In comparison, the Energy Information Administration in 2011 estimated costs to be $4,700 per kilowatt for conventional nuclear power, $4,600 for a carbon sequestration coal plant and $931 at a gas-fired plant or in excess of $1,800 for a gas-fired plant with carbon sequestration.[5] David Mohre, executive director of NRECA's Energy and Power Division, said SMRs like NuScale's are ideal for rural towns that need small power plants and do not have access to natural gas.[16] NuScale power plants are also expected to take less time, materials and space to construct than other power sources and can be expanded incrementally to meet changing power needs.[4][33][39][40]

In addition to NuScale Power, other companies in the United States are working to develop plans to create and design small modular reactors. These companies include: Babcock & Wilcox, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Gen4 Energy, Holtec International,[41] Intellectual Ventures, OPEN100,[42] Westinghouse Electric Company, and X-energy.[43]

Safety concerns[edit]

In March 2020, a panel of independent experts from the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) found several potential flaws in NuScale's reactor design.[44] The main issue was that in the event of an emergency shutdown condensed steam returning to the reactor vessel would be low in boron and might not absorb enough neutrons from the reactor. NuScale modified its design to ensure that more boron would spread to the returning water. The ACRS was still concerned that operators could accidentally add deboronated water to the core. The panel found a few more problems, such as that the steam generator could be prone to damaging vibrations. However, on 29 July the ACRS still recommended that the safety evaluation report be issued and that the reactor be certified.[44] Edwin Lyman, a physicist from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the flaws in the design have damaged NuScale's credibility and that "This is a case of the public relations driving the science instead of the other way around".[44] On the other hand, José Reyes, NuScale's cofounder and CTO said, "If there really was a fatal flaw, ACRS would not have published a positive report."[44]

Operations[edit]

NuScale has offices in Tigard, Oregon (near Portland); Corvallis, Oregon; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Rockville, Maryland.[45] Its headquarters are in Tigard and its production facility is located in Corvallis.[46] It maintains a test facility at Oregon State University,[2] as well as two additional test facilities in Italy.[5] NuScale is also exploring potential opportunities in the United Kingdom.[47]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Previously 45, then 50 megawatts
  2. ^ Most sources say indefinitely, but NBC News reported 30 days.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]