US-based NuScale Power has submitted the first-ever design certification application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a small modular reactor (SMR), NuScale said in a 12 January statement that it had asked NRC to approve its SMR commercial power plant design as “a major step towards the deployment of the next generation of advanced nuclear technology”.

NRC is expected to take 40 months review the application, which comprised some 12,000 pages of technical information. NRC is expected to take the next two months to determine if any additional information is required before beginning the review.  A design certification is valid for 15 years after issue in support of a combined licence application (COLA) to construct and operate a power plant.

The first commercial 12-module NuScale SMR is planned to be built on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). It will be owned by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and run by utility Energy Northwest, which owns and operates the Columbia NPP. NuScale said its design offers the benefits of carbon-free power and reduces the financial commitments associated with gigawatt-size nuclear facilities, adding that the technology is also ideally suited to supply energy for district heating, desalination, and process heat applications. The NuScale Power Module is an integral reactor vessel surrounded by a high pressure steel containment, which when coupled to its power generation equipment can produce 50MWe. A NuScale SMR plant can house up to 12 modules for a total facility output of 600MWe (gross). NuScale said the scalability afforded by the modular design allows customers to incrementally increase facility output to match demand.

NuScale was the sole winner of the second round of the Department of Energy's competitively-bid cost-sharing programme for SMR technology development and is the only SMR developer currently receiving DOE financial support. In 2015, DOE awarded NuScale and UAMPS a $16.7m grant as part of a three-year cooperative agreement to conduct site characterization activities at INL and prepare documentation leading to a COLA for a first plant at INL.

NuScale has been working on its SMR design for more than ten years, with initial development and testing at Oregon State University. In 2011, the global engineering, procurement and construction firm Fluor Corp became the majority investor in NuScale and has supported the company through provision of engineering, procurement and construction services.

However, Nuscale has some competition in the US. On 13 January, NRC accepted an early site permit (ESP) application from nuclear operator Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the potential construction and operation of SMR units at the Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. TVA submitted the application in May 2016, the NRC said. TVA said at the time it was the first company to submit any type of application related to SMRs to the NRC. The NRC will use the application to review site safety, environmental and emergency preparedness requirements for the project. TVA, a government-owned corporation, has NPPs in its electricity generation fleet – Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar. An ESP is valid for 20 years and certifies the suitability of a site for the construction of a nuclear power plant, but does not specify the technology to be used.

Looking to the UK

Nuscale, meanwhile is looking beyond the US. The company statement said that, once approved, global demand for its plants “will create thousands of jobs during manufacturing, construction and operation, including in the UK where the company is one of the leading contenders in the Government’s SMR Competition and where the experience of submitting a DCA to the NRC will inform the company’s approach to the Generic Design Assessment process carried out by the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation”. NuScale added that it is partnering with British-based firms who will provide the vast majority of content for UK deployment and export to the rest of Europe.

January also saw SMR developments in the UK, when Rolls-Royce named the companies it is working with to bring a SMR to market there. Amec Foster Wheeler, Nuvia and Arup, together with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, are working with Rolls-Royce to develop the latest technology reactors, a Rolls-Royce spokesman told World Nuclear News on 9 January. "Other names will emerge in due course," he added.

In October 2016, Rolls-Royce said a UK SMR could provide a GBP100bn ($127bn) boost to the UK economy between 2030 and 2050 because the companies involved are either UK-owned or have a strong UK presence. The latest announcement comes as the UK government is looking to support the development of SMRs and civil nuclear innovation, with up to GBP250m in funding, and also to publish a green paper on Industrial Strategy later in January. The spokesman said Rolls-Royce is teaming up with a "raft of British engineering giants" in a bid to make SMRs a reality in the UK, creating up to 40,000 high-value British jobs and intellectual property, and opening up a £400 billion export market.

"We are working with some of Britain's most experienced civil engineering companies and nuclear research organisations to realise the huge potential of small modular reactors for the wider UK economy. We share a common belief that a home-grown SMR programme can play a key role in strengthening the UK's energy mix and security, while creating valuable intellectual property, exports and jobs. We are working together to deliver a whole power plant which could be up and running in just over a decade and provide a boost for the UK's industrial strategy." The companies see SMRs as complementary to the UK's large reactor programme, "rather than an either/or", he added.

In November 2015, the British government announced plans to invest at least GBP250m over the next five years in a nuclear research and development programme, including a competition to identify the best value SMR design for the UK. Rolls-Royce submitted a paper to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, outlining its plan to develop a fleet of 7GWe of SMRs with its partners. Other participants in the UK's SMR competition include French-owned EDF Energy and its Chinese partner CNNC, Westinghouse and NuScale Power.