- GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has announced it is beginning the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) design.
- The proposed design, the BWRX-300, is based on a design already licensed by the NRC in 2014, and the company hopes to leverage this existing work to make a cheaper SMR that can "become cost-competitive with power generation from combined cycle gas plants and renewable energy platforms," according to GE Hitachi.
- SMRs have attracted industry interest as a potential way to make new nuclear power plants economically viable after multi-billion dollar cost overruns at conventional nuclear plant projects in Georgia and South Carolina. But after over a decade of interactions with the NRC, no SMR design has yet received a license.
At the end of 2019, GE Hitachi submitted its first licensing topical report to the NRC, kicking off a regulatory review that the company says in a statement could be a "foundation" for a preliminary safety analysis report that a utility interested in using the BWRX-300 could submit to the NRC.
GE Hitachi next intends to send more topical reports to the NRC as a precursor for "utility-led applications for a construction permit and operating license," a GE Hitachi spokesperson said in an email to Utility Dive.
Unlike other proposed but not yet approved reactor designs that use a fundamentally different type of nuclear technology, SMRs are light-water reactor designs similar to the power reactors operating today. But at 300 MW, the BWRX-300 is a fraction of the power capacity of conventional power reactors.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 2, the only new nuclear power reactor to begin operating in the U.S. in decades, is over 1,100 MW. Watts Bar 2's long construction history was marked by multiple delays and cost overruns. Ballooning costs to build new reactors at the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina led to the project being abandoned.
SMR developers like GE Hitachi and NuScale claim that the use of passive safety systems and simpler construction methods will allow their smaller reactors to be built and operated at significantly lower costs per MWh compared to their bigger brothers.
Oregon-based NuScale Power submitted its 12,000-page application for certification of its SMR design at the end of 2016. This September, the NRC plans to release a final safety evaluation report (SER) for NuScale.
"The Final SER, once issued, will represent approval by the NRC staff of our SMR design, and NuScale can begin commercializing its technology," NuScale spokesperson Diane Hughes said in an email to Utility Dive.
"NuScale remains the first and only small modular technology in the world to undergo design certification review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Hughes said.
The NRC recently approved an early site permit for the Tennessee Valley Authority to potentially build and operate SMRs at the Clinch River site, but no actual SMR designs have yet been approved.
Two other SMR developers that have engaged in pre-application activities with the NRC are Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel's mPower reactor — which was ultimately terminated — and the SMR-160, pursued by a subsidiary of Holtec International. The NRC currently has no pre-application review activities scheduled for the SMR-160.