Building up speed for the SMR roll out

12 April 2023

We’re a long way short of a fully commercial SMR roll out, but recent moves to pull in key energy sector concerns is helping to build up momentum for SMRs.

Were further evidence needed that SMRs are well on the road to commercialisation, news that GE Hitachi is teaming up with utility giants the Tennessee Valley Authority and Ontario Power Generation to advance global deployment of its BWRX-300 is another big tick in the box. A technical collaboration agreement will see the Tennessee Valley Authority TVA, OPG and clean energy developers Synthos Green Energy invest in the development of the BWRX-300 standard design and detailed design for key components, including the reactor pressure vessel and its internals. GE Hitachi says it anticipates a total investment of around $400m in relation to this development with each partner agreeing to fund a portion of the overall cost.

Perhaps just as important though, the partnership will form a Design Center Working Group to ensure that the standard design that emerges is deployable in multiple jurisdictions. Announcing the deal, GE Hitachi said the long-term goal is for the BWRX-300 design to be licensed and deployed in Canada, the US, Poland and beyond. The signs are encouraging too. Site preparation is already underway for a BWRX-300 at OPG’s Darlington New Nuclear Project site in Clarington, Ontario. Construction of this project is expected to be complete by the end of 2028 when it will become the first grid-scale SMR deployment in North America. Over the border in the USA, TVA is preparing a construction permit application for a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee and is also exploring additional sites for potential SMR deployment. Meanwhile, ORLEN Synthos Green Energy (OSGE), a joint venture between Synthos and PKN Orlen, has submitted an application to the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency for assessment of the BWRX-300 and has started the site selection process for its first BWRX-300 deployment, scheduled by the end of this decade.

While GEH was signing up TVA and OPG, newcleo which is developing a lead cooled fast reactor SMR was inking a similar deal with Italian headquartered utility major ENEL. Under a cooperation agreement between the two they will work together on the SMR technology. Newcleo says that it has also committed to securing an option for ENEL as an investor in its first power plant.

A 30 MWe LFR (Lead Fast Reactor) is to be deployed in France by 2030, followed by a 200 MWe commercial unit in the UK two years later, newcleo says. At the same time, newcleo intends to invest in a MOX (Mixed uranium / plutonium Oxide) plant to produce fuel for its design.

The company followed its ENEL news with the launch of an equity raise for up to €1bn for further development. The company has already completed two capital raises for a total of some €400m.

Rolls-Royce SMR has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a utility group to explore opportunities for the deployment of its SMR in Finland and Sweden. The deal was agreed with Finnish power company Fortum, which owns and operates the Loviisa nuclear plant in Finland.

Of course this is just three of something like 80 different designs of SMRs, but given these agreements all came within a week or so of each other it is indicative of a certain momentum behind the deployment of this technology. And, while it’s still far too early to pick winners and losers in the race for fully-commercial SMR deployment, pulling in the big utilities and global energy players as partners is evidently a positive development for the individual companies concerned but also for the SMR sector as a whole. With power plant sites – including nuclear plants in the case of ENEL, OPG, TVA, and Fortum – as well as ready access to energy consumers and deep pockets, getting utility buy-in is a necessary step for any energy technology to build sufficient commercial inertia for deployment. It looks like SMRs have just ticked a very big box.

By David Appleyard, Editor, Nuclear Engineering International

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