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Why Energy Northwest is Interested in SMRs

Dale Atkinson
Earlier this week, we published a post by NEI's Marv Fertel on why the Department of Energy needed to support development of small modular reactors. In response to that post, Dale Atkinson, an executive at Energy Northwest, left the following comment. We thought it deserved to be seen by a wider audience.

Energy Northwest is a Washington state, not-for-profit joint operating agency that comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. Public utilities in the Northwest and elsewhere are looking for a carbon or fossil fuel hedge. Nuclear generation provides that hedge, and SMR technologies incorporate lessons learned over several decades of operating similar sized U.S. Navy reactors as well as traditional sized commercial reactors. In fact, the American Public Power Association (APPA) recently passed a resolution calling for the federal government to accelerate SMR development and commercialization.

We know that all credible analyses of carbon reduction issues – by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Information Administration and independent international institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency – have demonstrated unequivocally that the United States and the world cannot achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions without preservation of our existing nuclear energy assets and construction of new nuclear generation, including SMRs. An additional benefit of SMR technology is to integrate intermittent renewable sources into the grid more smoothly.

It is expected to take $1 billion to complete NRC design certification. Energy Northwest was pleased that the Department of Energy selected the NuScale Power design for innovative technology funding (matching funds). It is also good to recognize that Fluor Corp., the majority owner of NuScale Power, has the money and commitment to see the design certification process through to completion – but this is a lengthy and expensive process, and, like most innovative technologies, requires investment by partners with shared interests in that technology’s benefits and uses. It should be noted that a substantial portion of the DOE matching funds are expected to be consumed by NRC review fees alone.

Nuclear energy can – and according to all credible experts, must – play a major role in any serious strategy to reduce carbon emissions. As policymakers invest in innovative energy technologies that promise to create job opportunities and new job sectors and reduce carbon emissions, maintaining funding for the promising small modular reactor designs is key to our shared clean energy future.

Energy Northwest has joined a teaming partnership with NuScale Power and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Services under which Energy Northwest would have first right of offer to operate a NuScale SMR. We remain very positive about the potential of SMRs to contribute to the low-carbon energy mix in the Pacific Northwest. We are looking at the 2023 time frame, realistically, for generating electricity from an SMR.


SteveK9 said…
SMR's are going to have a role, but I doubt it will be a substantial contributor to addressing climate change.

For example, China is building a plant at Taishan which will have 6 X 1700 MWe EPR reactors = 10 GW. That is the scale that will be necessary to slow climate change (prevention is not possible), and give the World a cheap clean source of electricity.

Also it should not be overlooked that designs like the AP1000 and ESBWR are also 'modular' and largely constructed in a factory. Instead of a single 'module' there are a number that are assembled onsite. But, some of the same advantages of 'factory construction' will exist there as well.
Col Mosby said…
Renewables, with the exception of hydro and geothermal have proven far too expensive a means of reducing emissions, carbon or emissions that are actually harmful. And the issue and cost factor has little to do with the process of "smoothly integrating" unreliable power, such as wind and solar, into the grid.
Our federal govt has totally fumbled the new nuclear technologies, charging enormous fees for approval of designs and
taking enormous amounts of time in doing so. U.S. utilities will be buying Chinese and Russian power plants in bulk, and for good reason.
Anonymous said…
Some of the same disadvantages of "factory construction" will exist for SMRs as has for the AP1000. The CBI module factory has had quality problems resulting in a law suite between CBI and Georgia Power. A factory can result in uniform quality but is it uniformly good or bad?
Pluto Boy said…
DOE likely won't pay anything for construction, not even via a "special" kwh rate charged if an SMR was built at a DOE site. So, who will come up with the money for construction, especially if an order for 20-50+ units is needed to make the venture economically viable? mPower and nuScale are having a hard enough time finding money for design and licensing so if someone would please explain where construction money would come from that will be a useful contribution to this discussion.
Anonymous said…
Col, "Our federal govt has totally fumbled the new nuclear technologies, charging enormous fees for approval of designs and
taking enormous amounts of time in doing so. U.S. utilities will be buying Chinese and Russian power plants in bulk, and for good reason."

It is not possible to buy a reactor from China or Russia and just build it here. The NRC still has to approve/certify the design before it can be built no matter who designs it.
Anonymous said…
Anon, "Some of the same disadvantages of "factory construction" will exist for SMRs as has for the AP1000. The CBI module factory has had quality problems resulting in a law suite between CBI and Georgia Power. A factory can result in uniform quality but is it uniformly good or bad?"

The issue is having to rebuild a nuclear work force after letting it go away over 30 years. No one has built anything in the US to ASME Code Section III standards. Anyone can weld, but welding to nuclear standards is another story. Is standardization good? Yes, the old power plants were "stick built", today methods allow for parrallel construction activities. This reduces costs and time.
Anonymous said…
ASME Section III is not that difficult to work to.

I don't think the issue is having a lack of qualified workers.

You don't think there are any number of RT capable welders who are in or outside the nuclear industry?

I think the biggest issue is the lack of money and benefits utilities are willing to give to get talented people. Also 'good' working hours.

If someone is traveling out of state to go work at Vogtle or Summer and they're on a 6-10's or 6-12 schedule. It is not possible for them to drive home on the weekends to visit their family.

If management were smart and wanted to make the workers like working there, they'd have crews geared toward who wanted to work what hours. (Some guys only want to do 40 hours so they can spend more time with the family, others want all the over time they can get.)

I think the biggest thing is having easy and clear procedures to have for the craft.

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