That’s how Babcock & Wilcox described their scaled down nuclear reactor, intended to top out at 125 megawatts. Cost has been an issue with, shall we say, pee-wee reactors, but no problems here:
The mPower reactor would include independent "modular" units that could be manufactured on an assembly line, thus cutting manufacturing and construction costs, said John Fees, CEO of McDermott International, the parent company of Babcock & Wilcox. Units could be built and come online even as others are being built, he said, allowing power companies to start earning revenue faster.
"This brings not only lower installation base cost but also brings greater cost certainty" compared to the $6 billion to $8 billion large-reactor option, Fees said. He declined to name a price for mPower, but said it would be "under the $5,000 per megawatt" price that the industry has estimated for large reactors.
How much lower isn’t really the point – that it even hovers there is remarkable, as scaling down a plant this far has generally made it uneconomical.
The new reactor has attracted "early and broad customer interest," Mowry said. A consortium of regional municipal and cooperative utilities -- which he declined to name -- has signed a "memorandum of understanding" to explore the construction of reactors, he said.
We include this to note the second instance of a “decline.” We wonder if the Times is suggesting there’s some doubt built into this – as there should always be before an announcement turns into a practical working item that fulfills various promises.
But if doubt turns into reality – and why not, B&W aren’t selling this via infomercial - there’s very real potential here. One thing you want a new nuclear plant to do is to allow shuttering a plant that emits CO2 willy-nilly. These small plants, which presumably can be sited a bit more easily than their big siblings, might make that more broadly plausible. (The B&W page referenced below shows these units joined together to scale up, but that doesn’t seem to be the initial goal.)
So far, the industry attitude seems encouraging and uncommitted.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is evaluating a potential site near the Clinch River in Roane County, Tenn., for the reactor and is a industrial consultant for Babcock & Wilcox, said Jack Bailey, TVA's vice president of nuclear generation development. TVA has not made any decisions about building a small reactor plant, however, Bailey added.
Same for Exelon. This makes sense – early days and all – but Babcock & Wilcox are hoping for 2011 approval from the NRC for the design. Then we’ll see what’s possible and who commits to what.
The story reports that several politicians showed up for the announcement, including Tenneseeans Sens. Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R) and Reps. Lincoln Davis (D) and Zach Wamp (R). Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) also was there. Maybe this ties into the nuclear provisions of the Republican energy bill we noted this morning or it’s a nod to TVA. Rep. Lincoln gives it a bit of a bi-partisan push.
Babcock&Wilcox have a page up on this technology. See here. You can look at a nice brochure, read more about it and – hey, no page to place orders!
A concept shot of the reactor.