Small modular reactors are going international in a deal announced Thursday between the Tennessee Valley Authority, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and two other partners committing $400 million to advance a nuclear plant design planned initially for Canada, Poland and Tennessee.
Ontario Power Generation and Synthos Green Energy, based in Poland, have joined TVA and GE Hitachi to invest in the development of the BWRX-300 SMR standard design and details for key components, including reactor pressure vessel and internal components.
The four participants will organize a design center working group to ensure a standard design deployed in numerous jurisdictions.
Site preparation is underway for a BWRX-300 in Clarington, Ontario. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2028 and will be the first grid-scale SMR in North America, OPG said.
TVA is preparing a construction permit application for a BWRX-300 near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and is considering other sites in its service area for SMRs.
And ORLEN Synthos Green Energy, a joint venture between SGE and PKN Orlen, and its partners have started a pre-licensing process in Poland by submitting an application to the National Atomic Energy Agency for assessment of the BWRX-300. It has initiated a site selection process for its first BWRX-300 and intends to deploy it by the end of this decade with the potential for a fleet of BWRX-300s.
“I think this has been a long time coming,” Jay Wileman, CEO of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, said at a ceremony at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.
The partnership has launched a platform needed to build SMRs, he said.
“We’ve got to be on schedule, on budget and it’s got to be a competitive cost,” Wileman said.
The goal is for a common SMR design applied to numerous sites. “Not like our sins of the past ... two plants on one side with different designs,” he said.
Jeff Lyash, TVA president and CEO, said the technology – dating to GE’s early boiling water reactor – has “50 years of operating experience.” The partnership includes power companies, a technology company – GE – and regulators in Canada, Poland and the U.S, he said.
“We hope that that will demonstrate leadership in the industry and around the world to develop one of the critical solutions to take us to that secure, decarbonized energy future,” Lyash said.
Kathryn Huff, head of the Office of Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, said the partnership is “precisely what will result in commercial lift-off” for SMRs.
“Worldwide, we need to double the amount of nuclear capacity, possibly even triple it by 2050 in order to meet our net zero carbon goals,” she said. “One of the things that may get in the way is the cost associated with lengthy construction timelines.”
DOE has partnered with GE Hitachi on advanced construction technologies intended to speed up nuclear construction and lower the cost, Huff said.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy says the BWRX-300 is the 10th evolution of the boiling water reactor, representing the “simplest, yet most innovative BWR design since GE began developing nuclear reactors in 1955.” It says the BWRX-300 is being designed to reduce construction and operating costs using available fuel, plant simplifications and a design based on a licensed reactor.
Still, the time and money needed to build SMRs have drawn criticism.
David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said SMRs are marketed as a solution to the changing climate, but are more expensive and take longer to build than renewable and storage resources.
“The gap is only going to get larger as the costs of building SMRs rise and costs of renewables and storage continue to decline,” he said. ”And locking in capital investments for SMRs could very well divert limited resources and prevent more effective investments in renewables and storage.”