A friend of mine from a medium-sized Illinois town was visiting Anchorage, Alaska. Walking a downtown sidewalk, he was enjoying his time away. Just down the street a car briefly beeped its horn. He turned, thinking, “I wonder who it is?”

It was Anchorage. The beep, no one he knew. Yet his instinct, his conditioning kicked in: If a car taps its horn when he is walking down the road, it must be a friend. Small town America had conditioned him to respond to the honk.

I am convinced it is the same way that people react to nuclear power. Say, “nuclear,” and preconceived notions kick in. People are spooked by past nuclear headlines. Who can blame them, after all?

More so is that the case in the Carolinas, the VC Summer failure being centerstage of thinking. Yet in the Carolinas nuclear has supported substantial carbon-free power and significant economic development for decades. Positive.

Nuclear energy deserves a new, serious examination because of important innovations. It deserves a reinvention in citizens’ minds like we have changed our ideas of, for instance, a phone, watching TV, even shopping. A company called, NuScale, is one firm making big inroads into a new kind of nuclear energy, as you’ll see.

New, young innovators are all-in on new nuclear; smart people who must live in the climate they want to help improve. New nuclear looks nothing like the hulking buildings and cooling towers of the 1960-1980s. Those facilities serve our society well and will continue to provide ample energy, easily from a technology standpoint, and if allowed, easily from a policy standpoint.

NuScale site plan

Picture a new nuclear facility with a futuristic glass and steel design. Imagine a tiny power facility with no emissions, completely safe, that can power a downtown, major airport, or huge shopping/housing/apartment developments. Carbon-free. A perfect piece of the clean energy puzzle for our nation.

That is reality. Small, self-contained nuclear-energy generation units. My view: Our society, our world, is remiss if it does not use the best of nuclear technology, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to change the future of our Earth.

New nuclear offers… “many advantages, such as relatively small physical footprints, reduced capital investment, ability to be sited in locations not possible for larger nuclear plants, and provisions for incremental power additions. SMRs also offer distinct safeguards, security and nonproliferation advantages,” says the Department of Energy.

Rolls Royce small nuclear facility. Rolls Royce website.

Power delivery is one concept for new nuclear. So is economic development. Proof? Here, from Rolls Royce (via BBC): “A consortium led by Rolls-Royce has announced plans to build up to 16 mini-nuclear plants in the UK. Rolls-Royce argues that as well as producing low-carbon electricity, the concept may become an export industry.” The prime minister supports this, “for the project as part of a long-delayed green plan for economic recovery.”

The UK wants to develop new nuclear and sell it to us and others. No! The U.S. needs to do this. We have been the nuclear leaders of the world. Do not sacrifice this, the jobs, clean energy security, or cash.

Bullhorn down now.

ECC profiles one of the new nuclear technologies making waves. This is just to show you the definition of new nuclear. The company: NuScale, which has a Charlotte office.

NuScale’s unit is a fully factory-fabricated small modular reactor (SMR) that can generate 77 MW of electricity. “It uses a safer, smaller, and scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology,” says NuScale’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Diane Hughes.

Here’s one way to open up your thinking about new, small nuclear units: Place several small reactors where an old coal plant has been (after all, wires and substations are already in place), or, and ponder this, place a pack of these small units where a nuclear construction site was abandoned. Or, at a big nuclear facility that has pre-built bays for additional units that did not get built.

Hmmm. You thinking what I am thinking?

Makes sense. “NuScale’s scalable design – a power plant can house up to 12 individual power modules – up to 924 MW – offers the benefits of carbon-free nuclear power and reduces the financial commitments associated with gigawatt-sized nuclear facilities,” says Hughes. “A 12-module NuScale Plant is much smaller than traditional gigawatt nuclear plants. Each module is 23 meters tall and 4.5 meters in diameter – about 126 modules could fit into a conventional containment building.”

Nuclear plants are known for the amazing ability to chug along without problems. Start them spinning and they do not stop. “Little engines that could.” Nuclear plants have been the unsung heroes for baseload power, that power need always there. Renewables have turned that constant need on its head as too much power is produced in sunny times, and nuclear power is not needed. But, when the sun goes down or its cloudy and solar electricity cannot be produced, nuclear is essential. It is a new paradigm in energy.

SMR’s answer the new model. “NuScale’s load-following capability makes it a natural way to integrate intermittent renewables into an energy system. This is ideal for a region such as the Carolinas, as governments and utilities come to the growing realization that 100% renewable energy sources will not support current anticipated demand or grid operability.”

Scientific American profiled NuScale.

So where does the consumer come in on this? In the Carolinas it would be to support the chance to move into the future in a big way and support this safe, new kind of carbon-free power. Change the thinking of nuclear from a project failure that was experiences some years ago to the next stage of deployment of a technology needed to address climate issues.

Want to see the complete Q&A with NuScale? Here it is:

How is this a new kind of nuclear energy?

  • NuScale Power has developed a new modular light water reactor nuclear power plant. This groundbreaking technology features a fully factory-fabricated small modular reactor (SMR) capable of generating 77 MW of electricity using a safer, smaller, and scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology. NuScale’s scalable design – a power plant can house up to 12 individual power modules – up to 924 MW – offers the benefits of carbon-free nuclear power and reduces the financial commitments associated with gigawatt-sized nuclear facilities. NuScale’s technology is also ideally suited to supply energy for electrical generation and process heat applications including district heating and desalination.

Does this kind of reactor mirror the trend toward smaller and more numerous generation sources in the future (versus large facilities)?

  • Small modular reactors, like NuScale’s, offer enormous benefits over large nuclear reactors: our factory-fabricated components mean our plants are faster and cheaper to build; our 12-module arrangement gives them flexibility, so communities can right-size their power plants to their needs; and our innovation in safety has made them easier to site and safer to operate.
  • A 12-module NuScale Plant is much smaller than traditional gigawatt nuclear plants. Each module is 23 meters tall and 4.5 meters in diameter – meaning that about 126 modules could fit into a conventional containment building.
  • One 12-module NuScale Plant generates up to 924 MWe – a substantial amount of power at a fraction of the cost and size of traditional gigawatt plants.
  • Additionally, NuScale’s plant design can be scaled in 77 MWe increments up to 924 MWe. Modules can be added incrementally as regional load demands increase; offering an unequaled level of flexibility and reduced financial risk for customers’ integrated resource plan.
  • The modular, scalable nature of NuScale’s SMR plant design allows for better integration into the existing electrical grid, while the design’s unprecedented load following capability makes it a natural way to integrate intermittent renewables into an energy system. This feature is also ideal for a region such as the Carolinas, as governments and utilities come to the growing realization that 100% renewable energy sources will not support current anticipated demand or grid operability.
  • NuScale’s design is also well-positioned as an option for repurposing existing coal-fired steam turbine generator power plants.
  • Because of its safe design, NuScale expects to have an Emergency Planning Zone as close as the site boundary, which helps keep costs down and makes it possible to locate them closer to where energy is needed most.

What is different in this technology versus the big nuclear plants?

In addition to the major differences that make NuScale’s SMR a more favorable choice compared to large nuclear plants, NuScale technology offers a number of distinct, innovative features that set it apart from its competition. These include:

  • Resiliency: The NuScale SMR’s level of resiliency is unmatched by any operating nuclear plant in the world, and has significant resilience features that will provide highly reliable, long-term power for mission critical facilities to help support grid recovery, and can continue to provide power on a micro-grid arrangement even after the main transmission system grid is inoperable, including during extreme weather and Fukushima-type events. The NuScale design would eliminate more than 70 percent of the rapid automatic reactor shutdowns that occurred in 2015 to the U.S. commercial nuclear fleet, for example.
  • Cyber Security: NuScale’s systems have the unique advantage of cyber-resiliency as part of the design, whereas earlier designs are backfitting cyber security at a substantial cost and burden.
  • 100% Turbine Bypass: The NuScale secondary system is designed with the capability to divert 100% steam capacity of each module or the entire plant to the condensers. This capability allows NuScale to respond quickly to grid demand with little notice. Current commercially available turbines come with control systems that ramp turbine load at 3% per minute. NuScale would be able to maneuver the output of the turbines over their full range, 20% to 100%, in around 30 minutes.
  • Redundant Array of Independent Reactors (RAIR): NuScale’s unique, scalable plant design permits staggered refueling of a single module while the other 11 modules continue providing 92% of the facility’s electrical output.
  • Digital and Automated Operations: A NuScale Plant will rely on fully digital and highly automated facility operations, resulting in a seamless operation and a minimal need for control room staffing to monitor 12-modules. Operators are not part of the safety case; operator actions are not necessary to ensure safe plant operation in the event of a loss of grid power.

  • Unique Safety & Security Features: NuScale’s smarter and simplified advanced design eliminates the need for two-thirds of the safety systems and components found in today’s large reactors, including the need for backup emergency power supplies, such as costly emergency diesel generators. This results in reduced maintenance cost, reduced capital costs, and a level of safety that is magnitudes better than current gigawatt sized nuclear plants. NuScale’s SMR design has a multitude of features that set it apart from the competition:
    • Black-Start Capability: A NuScale Plant can start up from cold conditions without external grid connections. This NuScale design capability is a first-of-a-kind for the nuclear industry; no current nuclear plant design in the world can offer this.
    • Island Mode Power: A single (60 MWe) SMR can supply all the electricity needs of the plant (often referred to as the “house load”) while also continuing to provide power to a mission critical facility without external grid connection via a micro-grid connection.
    • Nuclear Safety: A NuScale plant does not require operator or computer actions, electrical power, or additional water to self-cool the reactors for an unlimited period following a total loss of power to the station. This unprecedented capability is referred to as NuScale’s Triple Crown for Nuclear Plant Safety™.
    • No 1E Power: The NRC concluded that application of NuScale Power’s novel safety design approach eliminates the need for class 1E power for its small modular reactor (SMR). Class 1E is the regulatory standard set for the design of safety-related nuclear power plant electrical systems. It’s a ground-breaking development because no operating nuclear plant in the country can make that claim.
    • First Responder Power: When the transmission system is lost, all current nuclear plants automatically rapidly shutdown. But the NuScale plant would remain at power, ready to immediately provide electricity to the grid when it is back online, making it a First Responder to the restoration of the transmission system.
    • EMP Resistant: Given heightened concerns over the potential for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event, with the potential to cripple the U.S. electrical grid, the resiliency and adaptability of alternative energy solutions such as NuScale’s NPM have never been more important.

Small nuclear – featured in Yale Environment 360

What kind of timeframe?

  • NuScale is focused not only on design and licensing activities, but also on supply chain readiness. We are actively engaged with our manufacturing partners and will be ready to deliver the first NuScale Power Modules™ [NPM] to a client in 2027.
  • In 2020, NuScale received both a Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) (in August 2020) and a Standard Design Approval (SDA) (in September 2020) from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Both items signify NRC approval for the NuScale design and allow for customers to move forward with commercialization.

By the end of this decade, a NuScale small modular reactor (SMR) power plant will become part of the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), an initiative spearheaded by the public power consortium Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS). The first module will begin generating energy for the CFPP in mid-2029 and the remaining modules will come online for full plant operation by 2030.

  • Please note that while the first module under the CFPP will be operational by mid-2029, the earlier stated 2027 NPM delivery timetable allows NuScale to meet the needs of customers who may seek commercial operation of a NuScale plant earlier than UAMPS.

What kind of investment per megawatt?

  • The NuScale 720 (gross) MWe/683 (net) U.S. plant FOAK overnight capital cost summary since 2017 has been ~$3B as follows:
  • NuScale’s first-of-a-kind (FOAK) overnight capital cost has been estimated to be approximately $2.974B or $4,350/KW in 2017 U.S. dollars (the “Reference Plant OCC”).
  • This overnight capital cost estimate is based on constructing the NuScale reference plant (12-module) design at a generic greenfield soil site in the Southeastern region of the U.S. and accessible for water delivery of modules.
  • The Reference Plant overnight capital cost estimate excludes warranty, fee, contingency, escalation, interest, and owner’s costs, as these items vary by project, customer, and site location.

Check the history of NuScale here.