Small Modular Reactor Developers Gain Traction
Two companies developing small modular reactors, a relatively new niche in the renewable energy market, recently announced significant milestones.
Some major business announcements hit the headlines recently from two companies developing small modular reactors (SMRs), a carbon-free source of electricity with about one-third of the generating capacity of full-scale nuclear power plants: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy secured a deal to build North America’s first grid-scale SMR in Canada, while NuScale’s SMR design received certification from nuclear regulators in the United States.
SMRs supply carbon-free electricity at a fraction of the cost and land use typically required by other renewable energy resources. Image used courtesy of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Advanced Reactors Information System
Known for their flexibility, incremental deployment, and cost advantages over traditional nuclear reactors, SMRs bring great promise in the ongoing transition to renewable energy as viable alternatives to solar and wind power. They typically offer 300 megawatts (MW) of electric capacity per unit, while the average nuclear power plant produces around 1 gigawatt (or 1,000 MW). SMRs are drawing global interest in a market projected to reach $7 billion to $13 billion by 2030. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Advanced Reactors Information System lists dozens of companies working on SMR designs worldwide, including 13 in the U.S.
Some SMR companies are gaining traction as regulators unlock new certification pathways and more utilities look to invest in the technology.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Lands Deal for First Grid-Scale SMR in North America
North Carolina-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, one of the largest companies developing advanced nuclear reactors, recently inked a deal to build the first commercial grid-scale SMR in North America. The contract involves Canadian utility company Ontario Power Generation, engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, and construction provider Aecon. The former will hold the license and host GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR at its Darlington New Nuclear Project, the only Canadian site licensed for new nuclear technology.
On its website, GE Hitachi describes its BWRX-300 as a water-cooled SMR offering 300 MW of electric capacity that builds on the boiling water reactor (BWR) design developed by General Electric in the mid-1950s. At around 10% of the size of a scaled nuclear project, the BWRX-300 can be built in two to three years, save up to 60% of the capital cost per MW of competing SMRs, and can cool itself for seven days without power or additional action from an operator.
A visualization of GE Hitachi’s 300-megawatt BWRX-300 small modular reactor. Image used courtesy of GE Hitachi
The Darlington SMR will supply enough power for over 300,000 homes, and construction is expected to complete in late 2028.
In its announcement, Ontario Power Generation mentioned that the project could serve as the blueprint for others in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Alberta, with interest also growing in European and American markets. Outside of Canada, GE Hitachi has other deals with utilities and other companies in the U.S., Poland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic, according to its website.
NuScale Grabs Certification From US Regulators
An advanced light-water SMR developed by Oregon-based NuScale Power recently became the first design of its kind to be certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the seventh design cleared for domestic use. The NRC first accepted NuScale’s certification application in 2018 and completed its technical review in 2020. The final rule, which takes effect on Feb. 21, allows utility companies to reference NuScale’s SMR design when they apply for a combined license to build or operate a reactor.
A rendering of one of NuScale’s SMR modules. Image used courtesy of NuScale Power
NuScale’s VOYGR SMR plants comprise up to 12 power modules—each about one-third of the size of large-scale reactors—capable of generating 50 MW of electricity a piece. The company's website says its VOYGR plants can generate up to 924 MW and come in 12-, six- and four-module configurations. According to the NRC’s press release last month, NuScale is looking to up-rate each module to 77 MW, but the NRC isn’t expected to review that application until later this year.
NuScale has 19 agreements for SMR plants in a dozen countries, including a deal to demonstrate a six-module VOYGR plant at the Idaho National Laboratory. The first module is slated to come online by 2029, with the remaining entering operation in 2030. In total, the six-module plant will generate 462 MW of electricity.
A rendering of NuScale’s VOYGR power plant. Image used courtesy of NuScale Power via the Department of Energy
Elsewhere in the U.S., NuScale has secured two memoranda of understanding agreements to build VOYGR plants in Missouri and Wisconsin.