Federal money to establish the United States as a leader in small modular nuclear reactors would pay off with economic and security benefits, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., has told President Donald Trump.
Newhouse and Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., led an effort to get 17 Republican representatives to send a letter to Trump last week asking that he include money for the Department of Energy’s small modular reactors in his fiscal 2018 budget request to Congress.
The president’s budget proposal is expected to be released later this month.
“Other countries, including China and Russia, are developing SMR (small modular reactor) concepts with the intent to reach international markets first,” the letter said. “We know foreign nuclear programs are largely backed by their respective governments, and thus U.S. private sector nuclear technology development has a significant competitive disadvantage.”
If a country selects a reactor from the United States, it would meet U.S. standards. The reactor would come with strong nuclear nonproliferation conditions to ensure safeguards and physical security at the plant, along with other U.S. security requirements other nations do not demand, the letter said.
This means the thousands of jobs associated with the nuclear supply chain and reactor manufacturing would remain in the U.S., with the added advantage of generating billions of dollars in exports.
Letter to President Donald Trump
Because the reactors are small, they could be manufactured in modules in the United States and shipped to where they would be used for power production.
“This means the thousands of jobs associated with the nuclear supply chain and reactor manufacturing would remain in the U.S., with the added advantage of generating billions of dollars in exports,” the letter said.
NuScale Power, an Oregon company developing a small modular reactor, has estimated that 12,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs could be created a decade from now. The supplier base would be spread over dozens of states, the letter to Trump said.
The representatives said they are not asking for federal money to commercialize a small modular reactor or to construct a reactor.
Money would be used for continued cost sharing among DOE and small modular reactor developers to help reduce the risk associated with significant cost and uncertainty related to Nuclear Regulatory Commission design certification, NRC site permitting and design finalization work before construction may begin.
NuScale Power, which has ties to the Tri-Cities, submitted the first design certification application in the United States to the NRC Dec. 31. The NRC accepted it for review in March, confirming the 12,000-page application contained the technical information needed to conduct the review.
The NRC has said the application review will take about three years and four months.
Areva was awarded the contract to manufacture the initial fuel for NuScale’s small modular reactor. It also provided licensing, testing and fuel expertise for the NRC application, with much of the work done in Richland.
The domestic and international energy markets need SMRs due to their potential for enhanced safety standards, shortened construction times, lower total capital cost for a new plant, and their modular design that allows for multiple plant configurations to fit variable local electricity requirements.
Letter to President Donald Trump
NuScale plans to place its first small modular reactor in Idaho, possibly at the Idaho National Laboratory, to produce power for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.
Energy Northwest, of Richland, would operate the reactor. It would gain operational experience to eventually bring small modular reactors to Washington state, preferably to the Tri-Cities, according to Energy Northwest.
The Tri-City Development Council says that using a small modular reactor for DOE needs in the Tri-City area would save money. It could be used for the Hanford vitrification plant, which will treat radioactive waste for disposal, and to meet the increasing needs of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The letter to Trump said small reactors have the potential for enhanced safety standards, faster construction, less expensive capital costs and more flexibility than traditional nuclear plants.
The NuScale plant is designed to house up to 12 modules, which would allow the plants to scale up as needed to a gross capacity of 600 megawatts-electric. By comparison, Energy Northwest’s nuclear power plant near Richland, the Columbia Generating Station, has an output of 1,190 megawatts.
Forbes columnist James Conca, a Tri-Cities scientist, says its design would eliminate the risk of a reactor meltdown.
However, nuclear critics point out that the small modular reactors remain unproven. Because none has been built, questions remain about whether they would be safer or more economical than full-size reactors.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said during his confirmation hearing in January that he found the concept of small modular reactors “fascinating,” but nuclear waste issues must be addressed. The nation has no repository for used nuclear fuel.