The US Department of Energy will provide up to $450 million to advance the development of American-made small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). The funding is targeted to support first-of-its-kind engineering, design certification and licensing for up to two SMR designs over five years, subject to congressional appropriations. Small modular reactors, which are approximately one-third the size of current nuclear plants (about 350 MWe or less), have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits, acording to the DOE. (Earlier post.)
Through cost-share agreements with private industry, DOE will solicit proposals for promising SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and achieve commercial operation by 2022. These cost-share agreements will span a five-year period and, subject to congressional appropriations, will provide a total investment of approximately $900 million, with at least 50% provided by private industry.
SMRs can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival, reducing both capital costs and construction times. The smaller size also makes SMRs suited for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.
The newly announced funding builds on the Obama Administration’s efforts to help revitalize the US nuclear energy industry that include:
In 2010, DOE signed a conditional commitment for $8 billion in loan guarantees to support the Vogtle project, in which the Southern Company and Georgia Power are building two new nuclear reactors, helping to create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses.
DOE has also supported the Vogtle project and the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors by providing more than $200 million through a cost-share agreement to support the licensing reviews for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design certification. The Vogtle license is the first for new nuclear power plant construction in more than three decades.
Promoting a sustainable nuclear industry in the US also requires cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Over the past three years, the Department has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting R&D into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.