Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fluor Invests in NuScale

Hopkins_John_2.jpgYou know, it’s kind of sad that no one is willing to invest in nuclear energy anymore. Wait, what?

NuScale Power celebrated the news of its company-saving $30 million investment from Fluor Corp. Thursday morning with a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Fluor is a design, engineering and construction company involved with some 20 plants in the 70s and 80s, but it has not held interest in a nuclear energy company until now.

Fluor, which has deep roots in the nuclear industry, is betting big on small-scale nuclear energy with its NuScale investment. "It's become a serious contender in the last decade or so," John Hopkins, [Fluor’s group president in charge of new ventures], said.

And that brings us to NuScale, which had run into some dark days – maybe not as dark as, say, Solyndra, but dire enough:

Earlier this year, the Securities Exchange Commission filed an action against NuScale's lead investor, The Michael Kenwood Group. The firm "misappropriated at least $53 million in investor funds and used the money for self-dealing transactions," according to an SEC document. The SEC action did not allege any wrongdoing on the part of the nuclear firm, but the loss of its lead investor forced NuScale into dormancy.

This was a Ponzi scheme. NuScale had nothing to do with it, of course, just as Bernard Madoff’s clients had nothing to do with his scheming, either. They were all victims. So Fluor’s investment puts NuScale back on a full footing.

So what does NuScale aim to sell? This is how the company describes its technology:

NuScale Power, Inc., is commercializing a modular, scalable 45 Megawatt electric Light Water Reactor nuclear power plant. Each NuScale module has its own combined containment vessel and reactor system, and its own designated turbine-generator set. NuScale power plants are scalable, allowing for a single facility to have just one or up to 12 units. In a multi-module plant, one unit can be taken out of service without affecting the operation of the others.

This is interesting, too.

In a NuScale system, the reactor pressure vessel contains both the nuclear fuel, or reactor, and the steam generators. Water in the reactor circulates using a convection process known as natural circulation. This is also described as a passive safety system because no pumps or other mechanical devices are required to circulate the water.

Passive is bad in relationships, but good in industrial plants because it allows the reactor to take care of itself (broadly speaking) instead of depending on operator action or an electric connection. If the plant loses power, for example, it can remain operational (again, broadly speaking) until it can be safely shut down. It doesn’t make other plants unsafe, but it gives this one an interesting profile.

We’re not really plumping for NuScale – may the best company win and all that – and the small reactor field is crowded but still very young. No design has been licensed by the NRC, though the commission has signaled that it is ready for applications – particularly for light water reactors like NuScale’s. It’s a technology the NRC already understands well. But it’s nice that NuScale escaped an awful situation – and it’s heartening to see the nuclear energy industry moving forward in productive ways.

So – good news all around.

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And now, your moment of fun:

"I don't care what the nuclear energy industry says," [Dr. Helen] Caldicott said through an Internet phone call. "I speak to you as a doctor. We are absolutely credible."

Almost sounds like Dr. McCoy: "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer." Or a credible critic of nuclear energy, for that matter. But Dr. McCoy never pretended to be one, did he?

Fluor’s John Hopkins. If he visits Baltimore, he may want to use his middle initial and avoid the teasing.

1 comment:

DocForesight said...

It seems to me, Solyndra and all solar companies, suffer from the same "dark days" problem -- has to do with the inherent nature of daily sunrise and sunset.

They can't compete, period.

BTW, good news for NuScale. Full speed ahead, captain.