I’m often asked, “Where does your power supply come from?”, which generally turns into a conversation about the various types of generation and where we, as a society, might be headed in the future. A common statement I typically make in those types of talks is, “…. if carbon really is the problem, then small modular nuclear is the answer.”
The pace of coal power plant retirement announcements has certainly increased rapidly across the United States. According to S&P Global, coal plant generating capacity will fall to below 100 GW by 2037. This is down from 283 GW in 2015. The current go-to sources of generation are natural gas and renewables, but natural gas now has a target on its back and renewables are not a silver bullet answer to our evergrowing need for more capacity. Interest in small modular reactors (SMR’s) is gaining steam.
According to analysis from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), nuclear power makes up 15% of cooperative power supply nationwide. This power comes from traditional baseload nuclear plants. SMR technology could usher in a new era of nuclear power. (72765000)
SMR are typically defined as being between 20 to 300MW
but, because of their modular nature, they can be even
bigger if needed. They are assembled in factories and
shipped to the final site for installation. Simply adding more modular units increases the capacity. Water, molten salt, or liquid metal are used for cooling. The footprint of the facility can be as little as 35 acres, compared to around 1,000 acres for today’s nuclear plants.
Investigating SMR and other leadingedge technology demonstrates electric cooperatives’ concern for community and commitment to providing safe, reliable, and affordable power.
Currently, only a company called NuScale has approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its NuScale US600 small modular reactor. NuScale’s Carbon Free Power Project may be the nation’s first SMR.
The project is slated to be completed at the end of this decade and will be housed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Lab. This site was selected due to this lab’s extensive expertise in nuclear energy. The cost of the project has risen significantly
from $58/MWh to $89/MWh as the total costs have gone from $5.3 billion to $9.3 billion. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, most of the cost increases are related to significantly higher material and construction costs. This project has dealt with the same material supply and cost increases that are affecting the overall utility industry.
Several other companies are looking to develop SMR sites in the United States and other countries. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy signed a contract with Ontario Power Generation in January to develop a SMR in Canada.
Time will tell if SMR technology can be produced at scale and at a cost that is beneficial for our nation. Investigating SMR and other leading-edge technology demonstrates electric cooperatives’ concern for community and commitment to providing safe, reliable, and affordable power.