Sunday, April 2, 2017

NuScale Small Modular Reactor Begins Safety Certification

The nuclear cheerleaders should be cheering like mad over this one:  see link.  That's a welcome thing in their world, given the recent disastrous news of Westinghouse Electric filing for bankruptcy earlier this week.  see link to SLB article 
NRC To Begin Full Certification Review of NuScale Small Modular Reactor
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has docketed for review NuScale Power LLC’s
application to certify the company’s small modular reactor design for use in the United States.
“The company submitted its application Jan. 12 for the design, in which the reactor building holds 12 co-located pressurized-water reactor modules for a total output of 600 MWe. NuScale is the first company to submit a small modular reactor (SMR) design for certification. SMR designs seek to meet NRC safety requirements through smaller reactor cores and passive safety features. The NRC, after completing its acceptance review, has concluded NuScale’s application is complete enough for a full design certification review. The staff soon will provide a review schedule.
“The NRC’s certification process determines whether a reactor design meets U.S. safety
requirements. Companies can then reference a certified design when applying for a Combined License to build and operate a reactor in the United States. The NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards provides input on design certification reviews. If issued, certifications are valid for 15 years.
“The NRC has most recently certified Westinghouse’s AP1000 and GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor designs.”
Sowell Commentary
The certification process evaluates only the safety aspects and has zero concern over economics, costs to construct, time to construct, costs to operate, reliability or onstream factor, costs to decommission, etc. SMRs have zero chance of producing economically attractive electricity.  An earlier article on SLB see link discussed the economics of SMRs, and concluded they must have very short construction times to have any advantage over conventional, large (1000 MWe or greater) plants.  
Excerpts from that earlier SLB article include:
"The analysis for two 600 MW plants shows construction must be finished within 5.5 years to break even with the costs to build a 1200 MW plant.  Similarly, for SMRs of 300 MW, where four plants would be required to produce 1200 MW of power, and 200 MW, where six plants would be required.  The results are as follows.  The 300 MW plants must be constructed in 4 years to have zero savings, with any savings produced only if construction time is 2 or 3 years.  The 200 MW plants must be constructed in 2.1 years to have zero savings over the cathedral design.    It seems highly unlikely that small, modular plants can be built on such short timescales."  (end excerpt)
The NuScale design purports to have twelve, 50 MWe reactors in the same containment building to produce 600 MW electricity.  From the NRC documents filed by NuScale, 
"A NuScale Power Module (NPM). . . is a collection of systems, sub-systems, and components that together constitute a modularized, movable, nuclear steam supply system (NSSS). The NPM is composed of a reactor core, a pressurizer, and two steam generators integrated within a reactor pressure vessel (RPV) and housed in a compact steel containment vessel.
"The NuScale advanced small modular reactor plant design is scalable, such that from one (1) to twelve (12) NPMs operate within a single Reactor Building."
So, the question is, can this design result in lower construction costs and operating costs compared to, e.g. AP-1000?   There are orders of magnitude more equipment.  For 1100 MW output, the AP-1000 has one reactor, while the NuScale has 22.  Similarly, the AP-1000 has 2 steam generators, and NuScale has 44.  The amount of piping to connect all that equipment is magnitudes greater for NuScale.  That means many more welds, pipe supports, which greatly increases costs. 
As is the usual case with nuclear, it will be years and years before anyone knows the answers based on an actual, operating plant.  The design certification review will require some years.  Finding a suitable utility to invest will require more time, then fabrication and construction will require more years.  
Only then will we truly know how much SMR-produced electricity costs.   My bet is it will be twice or three times the cost of renewable-based electricity with grid-following storage technology. 
Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

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