Energy Northwest grant to possibly power nuclear reactor

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 12, 2013 

Energy Northwest is a step closer to possibly operating a small modular nuclear power reactor with the award of a $226 million Department of Energy grant Thursday to NuScale Power of Oregon.

In July, Energy Northwest joined an initiative with NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems for a small nuclear power reactor system that most likely would be operated in Idaho.

The DOE award to NuScale is part of a federal effort to promote clean energy innovation.

"Small modular reactors represent a new generation of safe, reliable, low-carbon nuclear energy technology and provide a strong opportunity for America to lead this emerging global industry," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement.

Energy Northwest, which operates the full-scale nuclear power plant near Richland, has first rights to operate the NuScale modular reactor.

"We firmly believe the first step toward bringing this technology to Washington state, and hopefully the Tri-City area, is to demonstrate it in the Northwest region to prove the technology and cost efficiency," said Mike Paoli, Energy Northwest spokesman.

The Tri-City area and the Idaho National Laboratory have long histories of reactor research, testing and operation but there is more energy demand now in the southern Idaho area, according to Energy Northwest.

The project will help guide the future for potential use of the technology, including helping to integrate with renewable sources in Washington, said Energy Northwest vice president Dale Atkinson in a statement.

"In an era in the Northwest of slow-growing electricity demand, small modular reactor technology offers utilities and consumers the opportunity to invest incrementally, on an as-needed basis, in clean, cost-effective power," said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest chief executive, in a letter to DOE affirming Energy Northwest's support for bringing small modular reactor technology to the Northwest.

NuScale is proposing a six- to 12-module facility that would generate between 270 and 540 megawatts of electricity and also demonstrate the technology for a small, commercial reactor. That compares to the Columbia Generating Station near Richland's generation of 1,170 megawatts of electricity.

The project represents a significant investment in first-of-a-kind engineering and design certification in the United States, according to DOE. The grant will help NuScale obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission design certification and begin operating in about 2025.

DOE is investing up to half of the total project cost of as much as $452 million and is requiring that the reactors be built in the United States, strengthening American manufacturing capabilities and creating new export opportunities.

DOE is supporting small modular reactors in the belief that they will offer safety, construction and economic benefits. It is seeking small modular reactor designs that can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready for installation upon arrival.

The smaller size could reduce capital costs and construction time, according to DOE.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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