Utilities split over small nuclear reactor economics
Washington (Platts)--18Feb2011/509 am EST/1009 GMT
Despite enthusiasm among nuclear reactor vendors and the Obama
administration about the potential of small nuclear reactors, some utilities
remain to be convinced of their economic viability.
Bill Johnson, CEO, chairman and president of Progress Energy said
Thursday the company is unlikely to build small nuclear reactors in the next
two decades, even though some vendors hope to make such units commercially
available by 2020.
Johnson said it is "an intriguing thought" to build nuclear power plants
"on a small scale, plug-in and play, [and] modular" fashion, but he added that
"the timetable for that looks more like the 2030s, just given the pace of
By then, he said most remaining coal plants will be large units, as
Progress is retiring a third of its coal plants, mostly smaller ones, and
replacing some of them with natural gas. Johnson spoke at a Platts conference
on nuclear energy in Bethesda, Maryland.
"It's going to come down to cost," said Johnson. If a 100-MW plant will
have to need the same size security and operating staff as a 1,000-MW unit, he
said, "that's going to make it difficult."
Duke Energy has proposed acquiring Progress in an all-stock deal. Johnson
would be CEO of the combined company, which would be the largest utility in
At the same conference, officials from the US Department of Commerce and
Department of Energy told the audience that the Obama administration sees big
potential in small reactors to boost US competitiveness and re-energize the
country's manufacturing base. The White House's budget proposal, unveiled
Monday, has requested $97 million for the DOE to accelerate commercial
deployment of small reactor technologies.
In contrast to Progress's reservation about small-scale nuclear plants,
Jack Bailey, vice president of Nuclear Generation Deployment at the Tennessee
Valley Authority, said his company plans to be the first utility in the US to
build a set of small reactors. TVA is studying the feasibility of beginning
construction of up to six mPower modules--125-MW reactors under development by
Babcock & Wilcox--at its Clinch River site in 2020.
Bailey spoke at the same conference and said small nuclear units can
potentially replace TVA's fossil fuel plants where the existing transmission
lines and water use rights could accommodate the transition. Given that small
reactors need less upfront capital to build, Bailey said TVA could purchase
certain number of units without federal loan guarantees. In comparison, he
said, "it's hard to spend 10 to 14 billion dollars at a time for new nuclear
generation capacity"--the capital cost typically required to build a large
nuclear power unit.
B&W has said it plans to submit an application for the US Nuclear
Regulatory Commission to certify its mPower design next year and is aiming to
build the first unit by 2020. Company CEO Christofer Mowry, speaking at the
Platts conference the same day, said the modular design of mPower would enable
the reactor to be built and assembled in a factory and transported by rail to
the construction site. Such a concept, he said, would slash construction time
and provide cost certainty.
Bailey said TVA is in talks with the DOE to power the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory with the mPower units.
DOE has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 28% below its
2008 level on all its facilities, including national laboratories, under an
executive order President Barack Obama issued last year. Bailey said small
reactors can help DOE meet its goal.
--Yanmei Xie, email@example.com
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