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DOE to award up to $266M to small modular nuclear reactor project; targeting commercial operation around 2025

DOE selected an SMR project with the B&W mPower reactor in 2012. The nuclear core and steam generators are integrated in a single vessel. Source: B&W. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a new funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0000800) for up to $266 million to help US industry design and certify innovative small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)—defined for this FOA as reactor units with nominal output of 300 megawatts electric (MWe) or less that are able to be factory fabricated and transported to the site for assembly of components and operation. With a 50% cost-share, total funding for the selected project will be around $462 million.

DOE will solicit proposals for cost-shared SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and achieve commercial operation around 2025, while offering innovative and effective solutions for enhanced safety, operations and performance. Selected projects will span a five-year period with at least 50% provided by private industry.

The scope of this FOA focuses on SMR designs (that provide unique and innovative features that can serve to improve nuclear safety, operability, efficiency, economics, security, and performance over existing plants and previously certified nuclear plant designs.

These SMRs should be designed to reduce core damage frequency, increase post-accident coping periods, provide features and characteristics that minimize the release of radionuclides under severe accident conditions, maximize resistance to hazards presented by natural phenomena, and present a credible case to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reduce emergency preparedness zone requirements.

The designs should provide diverse and redundant safety systems that include capabilities and design features that aid in managing the consequences of severe accidents similar to the Fukushima events. This may include ability to effectively deal with off-site power loss, ability to augment cooling water reservoirs from external sources, incorporating air and water sampling capabilities, or other innovative instrumentation and diagnostics that support accident management.

Under this cost-shared partnership, DOE intends to award a cooperative agreement(s) to support first-of-a-kind engineering (FOAKE) development, experiments, analysis, and other work to progress the design toward completion and culminates in the approval of design certification applications by the NRC, including work associated with the resolution of NRC requests for additional information during the review process.

In April 2012, DOE issued an FOA to support cost-share development of SMR development. (Earlier post.) Building off the cost-share agreement announced in November 2012 with a project led by Babcock & Wilcox (earlier post), this follow-on solicitation is open to other companies and manufacturers and is focused on furthering small modular reactor efficiency, operations and design.

The Babcock & Wilcox-led project is intended to accelerate commercialization of a small modular reactor design that targets a 2022 deployment date. Under that agreement, DOE will share costs on the design, certification and licensing of the B&W mPower small modular reactor design, with B&W providing at least 50% of the total cost. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to deploy two 180 MW small modular reactor units for commercial operation in Roane County, Tennessee, by 2021, with as many as six mPower units at that site.

Subject to congressional appropriations, federal funding for this solicitation and the project announced last year will be derived from a total $452 million identified for the Department’s Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support program.

Small modular reactors—approximately one-third the size of current nuclear power plants—have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits. The Energy Department is seeking 300 MW or smaller reactor designs that can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival.

The smaller size reduces both capital costs and construction times and also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors.



Much easier to install/build 3-4 of these units instead of a monster present day unit.. and bury them in a concrete and stainless steel pit that can be flooded with water in case the need arises..


Will all those $$$M + end of life clean up cost, be added to the real cost of nuclear power sites?

Nick Lyons

I hope NuScale wins this round. They use completely passive coolant circulation and require no electric power to shut down safely. Also, their minimum power level is 45mW, putting the 'Small' in SMR. See:


Wow, and people thought Solyndra was a scam.


This is not some "green energy scam" or a "liberal program" or anything like that. This is trying to get the US Nuclear program back into gear with new designs that are already being used in different places around the world.

It's really the only cost effective way to do nuclear and the US has gotten way behind while we've essentially had regulatory freezes on everything.

If you don't like nuclear, that is a different discussion and you can start a protest or write a letter to your congressmen or something. But Solyndra? What the hell does that have to do with anything here?


These cost sharing agreements are hostile to start-up companies because you gotta have money to get money. This is a money waster that just feeds the existing large nuclear industry players.

Better bang for the money if the labs get funding for basic nuclear research.


After 27 years of very costly service, we closed our only Candu Nuclear site 2 months ago. Getting ride of all the contaminated pieces will take 50+ years and will cost $10+B.

This was not a very good business deal?

Currently, our Hydro plants can produce more than 80 Candu and installed Wind is producing the equivalent of about 5 Candu and going up.

The combined Hydro/Wind production cost is about 1/4 those of new or over hauled Candu's without pushing radiation hazards and heavy repair and end of normal life cost on the next generations.

Nick Lyons

@HarveyD: The point of SMRs is to address the shortcomings of huge nuclear installations, namely:

* Modular, standardized factory construction
* Shorter build times
* Incremental installation
* Smaller footprint

All of these reduce time to build and generate revenue, reducing project risks and financing costs. The huge, bespoke nuclear plants of the past are so 20th century...


Here we go again, Obama is picking winners instead of the Market


Here is some information about Babcock & Wilcox, the only winner thus far. Its market cap is $3.14 billion. Its proposed technology is the light water reactor. We had light water reactors for over 30 years, and all we can get out of this effort is a smaller version.

Light water reactors were originally deployed as very large plants to improve operational efficiency. A smaller light water reactor may lose some of that gained efficiency.

Some of the Gen4 possibilities were supposed to have higher efficiency at lower plant sizes, but we won't have any Gen4's in the competition given this set of rules.

This effort is all about the care and feeding of the existing nuclear industry players.


The usual nonsense from the anti nuclear crowd.
Deaths in Europe from air pollution caused by coal are put at around 18,000 per year.
In India they are around 100,000.

And nuclear is supposed to be 'too risky' when coal causes a holocaust every year in its normal operation.

But of course opponents want to run the whole world economy on unicorn farts and sunshine, regardless of whether it is sunny when it is needed or not.

The news for fantasists is that the estimated cost of switching to renewables for Germany alone is $1.3 trillion, enough to build nuclear plants to run everything there and to have spare change to give $30,000 each towards buying electric vehicles.

Meanwhile Germany is building coal plants and emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases and lethal air pollution, all because they are in thrall to fantasy solutions.

Grow up.

Kit P

“Much easier to install/build 3-4 ”

Of course that is not true. The advantage of nuclear is that is scales very well. A 10% increase the in size results in a 33% increase in power output.

When building a power any power plant it is not the few years of grief you get building it but the 60 years of operating that is important. Nuke do not need a 100 rail cars of coal delivered every day. Each nuke has six high paid reactor operators per unit. The pay is the same if they are producing 250 MWh or 1600 MWe each hour.

Kit P

“It's really the only cost effective way to do nuclear and the US has gotten way behind while we've essentially had regulatory freezes on everything. ”

The US is the undisputed leader in nuclear power. Second place is not even close. What has changed in the last 40 years is that everybody has gotten better and there is more world competition. There is no regulatory freeze.

“a scam ”

It is hard to see the logic is SMR or PV panels on the roofs of houses. I do not see the market for SMR. The only reason to build a smaller reactor is that you do not need the power. If you only need a small amount of power build a biomass plant or stick with coal. SMR might have a market in small developing counties but nuclear power is not for beginners.

“The usual nonsense from the anti nuclear crowd. ”

Followed by the usual nonsense of the anti-coal crowd.

“lethal air pollution ”

Coal plants do not produce lethal pollution. Does Davemart even know what lethal means.

For those worried about coal, the solution is not to reduce coal a teaspoon at time but to build 1600 MWe reactor that will last hundreds of years.

Kit P

For the visual learners.
First Nuclear Concrete - Photo 17

As a matter of disclosure I have no association with this project but can respect the accomplishments of competition.

Bob Wallace


Well before 2020 wind should be about 3c/kWh and PV solar about 5c/kWh (or less).

It's likely we'll have inexpensive storage as well long before 2020.

How many of these things does one have to build before economies of scale kick in? It's about 500,000 for EVs.

And if new nuclear (very optimistically) could be brought to market for 11c/kWh how exactly would this stuff compete? How does building little reactors, fighting community resistance, and furnishing technicians/security for many small sites cost out to be competitive?

Sorry. Fails the smell test....


@ Bob Wallace.

The increasing cost to over haul-repair, secure, maintain and operate the large Candu and used fuel sites is what made Nuke sites over haul cost more than equivalent new Wind power and 2X more than new Hydro plants.

The lowest cost (to build and operate) seems to be the new NG power plants, specially with current very low cost NG.

Ecologists do not like NG e-power plants because of high emissions.

Economists do not like NG e-power plants because NG price could rise (up to 4x) in the next 10+ years of so and supply could shrink before 2030.

The public do not like Nuclear plants because of potential risks and unsolved used fuel storage issue.

Clean Wind and Solar (and associated storage) cost will keep going down and availability will not shrink for many millions years to come.



This article isn't about CANDU. That technology, while promising in theory, failed in implementation.

The fact that a CANDU reactor was built in energy-rich Quebec tells you more about 1960s/70s Canadian politics than it does about anything else.


Bernard is right, we now have reactor designs that cost less, are safer, produce less waste for a much shorter period.


I was a nuclear critic and a founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists back before the idea became a political football. That is back when they had any scientists and engineers there. Now there is nothing but brain dead political diatribe writers.

We criticized the then curent nuclear designs and the sloppy construction methods used to build several but not all of them.

We wanted safe nuclear reactors. But alas they were just not available then. The designs of that era were just not complete.

Today the Gen III+ designs building around the world but principally in China and the USA are what was wanted then. Truly passive walk-away designs, at least partially factory constructed for quality, and predictable reduced contruction times, which reduce financing costs by an order of magnitude. We wanted designs with much improved engineering and much improved safety systems. We wanted a method to address the long lived radioactive waste problem. That too has been solved with the French pioneered "Actinide Burning" technology. Radioactive waste can now be relatively safe in a hundred years and undetectable from raw uranium ore in a few hundred years, a timeframe that is easily acceptable.

We now have an acceptable technology for several Millenia. Today that makes me a nuclear advocate. But Fission is still a transitional power source, needed for only 30-75 years,at msot thre balance of the century. Why spend $Billions on new SMR designs that will not be licensed for a minimum of 25 years, just so they can compete with their natural replacements, commercial Fusion power plants?

TVA may talk of purchasing SMRs relatively soon, but experience has shown that it has taken 25 years of re-design and license activity to merely upgrade the current light water reactor designs. But it takes long time to develop these detailed designs and they are finally approved.

We have these now acceptable designs today, but the genuine critics have been replaced with demagogues and green crazies, who have little intelligent to say. Their infantile wishes for so-called renewable Wind and Solar are inherintly stupid, non-continuous, and grid destabilizing. Plus they simply do not scale. Proof is that Nowhere in the world are they successful.

The only renewable that does work, Hydro, they denigrate.

If we must spend money burning a hole in a politician and bureaucrat's pocket, we should just fully fund ITER and under take to construct a more advanced Fusion test reactor in the USA, more dedicated to the engineering choices and cost aspects aspects of commercial Fusion. Now that virtually all the Fusion plasma Physics problems have been faced and solved, even before ITER sees fist plasma, we could begin the deailed design of the first commercial Fusion power plants. Its time has arrived, finally.


Fusion is not a certainty, the NRC needs to be more vigilant on older reactors and more open minded about the newer generation reactor designs.

The licence fee for a new reactor is $100 million and 5-10 years, without regard to size nor complexity. The small new reactors are simpler and safer, yet the bureaucratic mechanism does not adapt. We need some changes at the NRC.


If the DOE would just work with Hyperion Power on a steady basis then they will get their small modular reactor.

This is madness in action because DOE has published plans about their Gen4 efforts, but then not fully fund any of them.

This is something the new DOE secretary can address.

Kit P

“commercial Fusion power plants ”


Kit P

"more vigilant on older reactors"

Do you have an example of lack of vigilance on the part of the NRC?

"more open minded about the newer generation reactor designs"

Which design have the not considered to the same safety standards?

"The small new reactors are simpler and safer"

Are they? Since no applications for SMR have been submitted is kind of ridiculous to fault the NRC for something that they have not done yet.

The burden of proof of safety is on the designer of the reactor. The integrity of the NRC review is a marketing feature for vendors who sell to other countries.

We had light water reactors for over 30 years, and all we can get out of this effort is a smaller version.
The problem is in Washington, at the NRC.  The fee structure of the NRC is "user pays", and the expenditure required to certify anything other than a LWR is prohibitive.  Flibe Energy proposes to bypass the NRC by marketing to the DoD, and GE-Hitachi is shopping the S-PRISM to the UK and not in the USA where it would have to pay $1 billion and delay 10 years just to train the prospective regulators.
The only reason to build a smaller reactor is that you do not need the power.
The reasons to build a smaller reactor include
  • Ability to construct the entire reactor vessel with steam generators as a unit in a factory and ship it to the site ready to install.
  • Better thermal management in accident scenarios due to higher surface/volume ratio.
  • Reduced spinning reserve requirements.
  • Smaller cost and shorter lead time for capacity additions.
Kit P

“The fee structure of the NRC is "user pays" ...,”

E-P failed to notice that this article is about one part of the government that promotes energy paying another part that regulates safety to write a safety evaluational report (SER) for design certification (DC).

There is a precedent for this. Westinghouse got cost share money for the AP1000 and now there is 10 GWe under construction and another 10 GWe in the pipeline. The concept of standard design is that the cost of licensing is shared by many plants.

The same concept applies to SMR. Of course customers have to buy and build them. Do far there is almost no customers including DOD.

“$1 billion ”

DC does not cost $1 billion. For a two reactors site (2200 MWe), the DC, EIS, site prep, and procurement of long lead time components costs $1 billion.

“The reasons to build a smaller reactor include ”

A long list of reason that are all wrong. I will repeat. The reason to build a nuke reactor is to mak electricity. Any discussion that ignores how much power is produced over 60 years is just wrong. The reactor vessel and SG are built in factories ready to install. The 'Better thermal management' is a crock. The amount of decay heat is directly proportional to the amount of electricity produced. Each fuel assembly must be cooled. It does not matter too much how many reactor vessel the fuel is in.

“Reduced spinning reserve requirements. ”

The weak link is the transmission system. Most of the time when a nuke plant shuts down expecetedly it is because of a problem on the grid. This trips off all the coal, gas, hydroelectric, wind, and solar too.

The reserve margin is for hot and cold days. How much of the reserve is 'rolling' depends on the biggest potential loss.

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