NuScale competes for second SMR funding

Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer at NuScale, speaks with Nuclear Energy Insider about its SMR test facility, key scenarios being experimented and how NuScale is preparing to compete for the second SMR grant.

 

On 11 March, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the second round of its SMR funding opportunity. But long before that, Oregon-based NuScale Power had been gearing up for competition by taking advantage of its exclusive-access Integral System Test Facilities, where the viability of the company’s SMR design has already been demonstrated. We look at what NuScale has achieved so far and what it will take to be a lead competitor in the SMR market.

By Heba Hashem

Taking the industry by complete surprise, the DOE’s second SMR Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) was unexpectedly announced last week, inviting proposals by 1 July. The winning SMR designer would be awarded a maximum of $226m over five years, provided the applicant commits to a 50% cost match. 

“The DOE said they would announce the selected awardees in the middle of September. We are working very hard on our proposal, and have established our proposal team. It’s very important to recognize that the second round of the FOA is different from the first round in the criteria that the DOE said would be the basis of their evaluation,” Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer at NuScale explains. 

According to the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, for the second FOA, applications are being sought for SMR designs with features that can improve nuclear safety, operability and security, and that can achieve a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design certification for deployment by 2025. 

“We believe that our design, technology and approach are very well-suited to respond to the DOE’s criteria. We’ve had a project number in place with the NRC since April 2008, and at that time, there were no SMR vendors other than NuScale. We’ve been very active with the NRC in engaging and preparing for our design certification, and believe we have a very strong programme that positions us well to demonstrate the ability to license our plant on the schedule required by the DOE,” states McGough.

Indefinite coping period

One of the important factors of the NuScale design is the safety conditions it offers. The SMR is able to shut down and cool without the need for AC or DC power, or additional water. “When you think of a Fukushima incident, where the station lost offsite power, it lost emergency diesel generators to provide back-up power and lost the water and coolant. 

In that situation, NuScale Power Module would be capable of shutting down itself and providing stable core cooling indefinitely without any AC or DC power or additional water. This is a revolutionary patented concept that NuScale has. From a safety standpoint, if you consider other SMR designs and their coping periods in the absence of outside support, the coping times range from 7 to 14 days. But ours is indefinite, it’s forever,” explains McGough, who will be speaking at the 3rd Annual Small Modular Reactor Conference in South Carolina, on April 16-17 (http://www.nuclearenergyinsider.com/smr/conference-event-brochure.php?ut...). 

Moreover, in the operation of the plant, NuScale SMR has a natural circulation that uses three factors to drive the coolant: convection, conduction and gravity. “Those three things work because they are physics – they work all the time, regardless of needing power. Other SMR designs all use reactor coolant pumps, mechanical devices and electricity to run, and we don’t do that.”

One-third scale reactor

Using its own Integral System Test Facilities, NuScale Power has been testing a series of key scenarios on a one-third electrically-heated prototype reactor that replicates the entire power module and reactor building pool. Instead of being heated by nuclear fission, the reactor is heated by an electrical element. The prototype is also enabling NuScale designers to bring the system up to operating temperature and pressure, and perform tests to validate computer models, including thermal efficiency, performance and safety conditions.

“What we’re testing is how the entire system performs together under actual operating temperatures, pressures and flow conditions. The types of testing that are done at our facility include thermal hydraulics testing for the fluids that occupy the reactor coolant system as it’s heated up by the reactor core. It’s very important to experiment with the performance of those fluids and their ability to generate and transfer heat through the steam generator tubes,” he highlights.

This Dynamic System Scaling Methodology was devised by NuScale co-founder and chief technical officer, Dr. Jose Reyes, who developed the advanced concept of scaling test plants in order to replicate a nuclear power-plant’s thermal-hydraulic and other systems’ performance. 

“Dr. Reyes and his team developed the mathematical modelling to generate the scaling factors in a way in which the physical model performance could be extrapolated to a much larger facility. Once they determined what those scaling factors were, they demonstrated them to the NRC, and that became the accepted testing protocol. Later, there were 98 NRC-witnessed testing programmes on the AP-1000 test facility, which sits in the same building next door to the NuScale facility. These 98 documented tests became the basis for the design certification for the AP-1000s that are now being built.”

“Our team learnt how to do this from the developer of the ALP-1000; it’s a technical expertise that was developed by Dr. Reyes and his teams and was successfully done for the AP-1000. It’s the exact mechanisms that we are developing for the basis of our design certification,” says McGough.

Inside the NuScale SMR Simulator

A first of its kind multi-unit nuclear SMR control room simulator was also built by NuScale in Oregon and has been operational for 10 months. The facility is being used to run the plant as it would be viewed from the control room, and features real-time, high fidelity technology from GSE Systems. Twelve reactor modules are employed in the control room, using GSE’s JADE simulator.

“This facility allows us to perform Human Factors Engineering (HFE) studies, which is an ergonomic type of analysis of what is the best way to orient the displays for operators to monitor and read them, including the right heights of the screen and what type of implications are most readable. We’ve had the NRC in our facilities to observe our control room operations and our HFE studies. It also allows us to run simulated and operational scenarios, and observe how the system reacts if you simulate the loss of deep water for example. So it involves building the mathematical modeling of the actual system operations,” explains McGough.

Using the control room simulator, NuScale plans to demonstrate the concept of operating a multi-unit, single-control room SMR to the NRC. It is likely that this type of approach to HFE become a standard procedure for designing new power plants as stronger regulations and precautionary measures are enforced worldwide.

Critical Heat Flux and Thermal Hydraulics

To carry out additional tests, NuScale makes use of two world-class testing facilities: STERN Laboratories in Canada, and SIET in Italy. “There are a number of different things that have to be tested in different labs. For example, STERN is an especially configured laboratory for Critical Heat Flux (CHF) testing, where most critical heat testing is performed for many fuel designs,” says McGough.

STERN has been conducting CHF flux experiments for 45 years for the nuclear industry under NQA-1 quality requirements and NuScale has been testing its fuel design at full-length with prototypic spacers and geometry, and with an electrically heated array. NuScale’s CHF testing at STERN was recently witnessed by the NRC, during an inspection on March 8th. 

Furthermore, as part of the cosine power shape test series that are targeted for completion by March 25th at this facility, NuScale is performing uniform axial power shape experiments and evaluating form losses and fuel rod friction factors. The results have already shown the company’s fuel design is safe for natural circulation flow. “The preliminary results from these tests have been of high quality and the NRC was very pleased with the outcome of the results,” says McGough.

NuScale has also been conducting helical coil steam generator tests at Italy-based SIET (Institute for Thermal-Hydraulic Testing), a facility with 40 years’ experience in performing large-scale thermal-hydraulic tests including SPES (Simulatore Pressurizzato per Esperienze di Sicurezza) tests for AP600/100. The large test facility is one of the few in the world that are able to perform this particular testing for pressurized type steam generators. The company aims to obtain integral tube bundle thermal-hydraulic and flow-induced vibration data for design and safety analysis code validation.

Smaller power that brings big cost savings

At 45MWe, the NuScale Power Module can be deployed in as few as one and as many as 12, in any combination. “One of the reasons our size is attractive is because smaller areas that only need a few hundred megawatts or so, can get 1 or 2 NuScale modules and use them to support their needs, as opposed to trying to digest 1000MWe reactors,” says McGough.

In the case of Guam for example, a small island base that has extremely high power costs, the company’s SMR modules would be well-suited for deployment. Hawaii would also be ideal, as the state has the highest electricity prices in the U.S. In places like Alaska that are hard to get to and where fuels have to be transported, it is very expensive to buy power, and SMRs would make them self-sufficient.

A level playing field

Initially developed in 2000 under a DOE-funded research programme, NuScale SMR was demonstrated in a one-third scale electrically heated test facility from as early as 2003. While other SMR designs entered in 2010 and 2011, NuScale was the first US-based SMR vendor to begin discussions with the U.S. NRC, having been engaged in pre-application efforts since 2008.

NuScale and Westinghouse Electric Company both took part in a Congressional Briefing on SMRs in February 2013, which was attended by New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt and Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf. “For someone like NuScale, we are delighted to see that the programme is indeed going to warrant support from the Obama Administration and the DOE. Also, as an SMR competitor and knowing that B&W have been selected, but not yet received their funding, I would rather not have them at the forefront in their development so we would be on a level plane when it comes time to compete,” says McGough. 

NuScale expects to submit its Design Certification Application in the second half of 2015, followed by a Construction & Operating License. The company forecasts that the first plant will go into operation in the early 2020s.

 

This article has been written up in conjunction with our Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Report 2013 which is due for publication in late March 2013. Email us for more details!