Bechtel pulls out of SMR development

20 March 2017

Bechtel confirmed on 13 March it is pulling out of small modular reactor (SMR) development as part of Generation mPower, a joint venture with BWXT (which was a part of Babcock & Wilcox when the partnership was first formed). Bechtel said it would no longer be attempting to create its own SMR reactor after it was unable to find investment for its programme, or a utility company that would provide a site.

Bechtel on 3 March had notified BWXT that it was unable to secure sufficient funding to continue the Generation mPower program and was invoking the settlement provisions of the framework agreement announced in March 2016 for terminating the programme. This came at the end of a year during which Bechtel assumed the project lead from BWXT, the original developer of the mPower concept. As a result, BWXT will pay Bechtel a $30m settlement as Bechtel’s sole and exclusive remedy, as agreed by both companies in the framework agreement. BWXT will cease its mPower technology development efforts in the next few months, and Generation mPower LLC end its mPower programme.

BWXT owned 90% of the equity in the partnership and was responsible for designing the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS). Bechtel owned 10% and was responsible for designing the structural parts of the containment building, all of the buildings and internal systems for the steam system, and the site support systems, as well as providing project management expertise.

The mPower was formally announced in June 2009, but the project had been underway before the financial crisis of 2008. Problems arose over the next few years because of recession, falling natural gas prices due to fracking, management complications and then the Fukushima accident. After spending about $400m, the reactor was not sufficiently developed to a point that could attract investors. After several redesigns the basic mPower unit would have been a 195MWe pressurised light water reactor with the NSSS housed inside a tall pressure vessel to reduce the risk of large piping failures. The reactor core would be in the lower section of the vessel, the control rod drive mechanisms (CRDMs) above the core, and the once-through steam generators above the CRDMs, with a water riser going up the center of the steam generators. The  pressuriser would be the highest section of the vessel. Initial marketing and design efforts focused on a two-unit station capable of producing 380MWe.

A statement from Jud Simmons, BWXT Director of Communications expressed disappointment that additional interest had not been forthcoming but stressed that BWXT believed in its SMR technology and was proud of its development efforts. “We will keep a complete archive of our work to date, and should conditions warrant in the future, BWXT will be in a position to evaluate any opportunities for design and manufacture using that technology, as guided by our senior leadership and Board of Directors.” When working on its own product as part of Generation mPower, BWXT could not participate as a potential supplier to other vendors. Now, however, BWXT could become part of the supply chain for some of the other system vendors that are still developing their products.

In March 2016, the UK government launched a £250m SMR competition which set out to identify the preferred reactor technology to be rolled out across the UK over the next 15 years. Generation mPower was one of 33 groups which succeeded in the first round of the competition, including engineering firms such as Atkins and contractors such as Costain. The reactor designs of Westinghouse, NuScale Power, and the mPower  had previously been recommended for “further government investigation” by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory in 2014.



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