- Dominion Energy will invest seed money to support the development of a new kind of nuclear reactor, an effort being run by a global nuclear alliance created by GE and Hitachi.
- GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is developing the BWRX-300, which it says is a 300 MWe small modular reactor (SMR) that will require up to 60% less capital costs per MW than conventional light water reactors.
- Interest is growing in a new generation of nuclear reactors, though Dominion joins a short list of projects. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently completed the first phase in the design certification application process for NuScale Power's own SMR.
NuScale's SMR design is farthest along, but there are others, and Dominion's investment with GE Hitachi could signal a growing confidence in the future of smaller reactors.
While GE Hitachi said in a Monday statement that Dominion's funding "provides seed money to further work that could lead to commercializing this technology," it also said it "has no plan at this time to build one at any of its commercial nuclear stations."
Dominion operates four nuclear plants in Virginia, and its long-term supply plans include license extensions and their continued operation.
Recent innovations in the development of the GE Hitachi unit "have the potential to make it a strong competitor in the marketplace. Our view is that a modest investment now to support further development of this technology is in the interest of both companies," Dominion's Chief Nuclear Officer Dan Stoddard said in a statement.
As natural gas prices have remained low, nuclear plants have struggled in some markets and development of new units has largely stalled.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 2 plant started up in 2016. The 1,400 MW plant is the first new nuclear generation added to the United States grid in more than 20 years. But with the abandonment of the V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina last year, Southern Company's Vogtle expansion is the only new nuclear construction project currently underway in the country.
Smaller reactors, built at least partially off-site, are widely seen as a way to cut costs and make development more reliable. The next step for the reactor design, from an engineering standpoint, is "to prove the concept of eliminating a large break LOCA [Loss of Coolant Accident]," GE Hitachi spokesman Jon Allen told Utility Dive via email.
Looking ahead, "we could start the licensing process soon after the LOCA elimination work is completed and a customer is ready to move forward," Allen wrote.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently selected 13 projects to receive approximately $60 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development for SMR advanced nuclear technologies.