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Posts Tagged ‘Babcock & Wilcox’


Friday, December 10th, 2010

December 10, 2010
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors


In a measure of the growing enthusiasm for downsized nuclear, small modular reactors have been listed as Idea #18 on Time’s “20 Top Green Tech Ideas” of 2010.

“[T]here’s still a reluctance to build nuclear plants ­ no new one has been constructed in the U.S. in decades ­ and it goes beyond environmental concerns,” says Time, parroting standard anti-nuclear rhetoric. “Nuclear power plants are incredibly expensive investments, and right now few utilities would take on the financial risk of building one, or get banks to lend them the necessary capital, even with additional government aid. But what if you could shrink the size of a nuclear plant? That’s what companies like NuScale Power and Babcock & Wilcox are trying to do. By building a modular plant that might be a quarter the size of a the current multi-gigawatt operations, it’s possible to reduce the capital expenditures needed to start construction and cut the risk that would be associated with an accident. We may at last be approaching a time that nuclear goes nimble.”

Next to some of the other ideas on Time’s Top 20, SMRs’ credentials seem impressive. The 75-200 MW units being developed by Babcock & Wilcox, NuScale and Hyperion can run a small town of about 20,000 with a basement-sized unit. By contrast, the Solar Tower (idea #7) – which has been tried since the 1980s – can generate 10 MW on five square miles when the sun shines. A new rooftop windmill manufactured by Windtronics (Idea #13) can generate “nearly 3000 KWh a year with decent winds” – about enough electricity to run your VCR.

Still, it’s great to find nuclear in such rarified company.

Read more at Time Magazine


Thursday, November 11th, 2010

In an adroit step backwards, the Tennessee Valley Authority has chosen the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s old two-step licensing procedure in a bid to construct the first models of Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower modular reactor.

“TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the utility is using the two-step licensing approach to allow more flexibility for TVA and the manufacturers of the mPower reactor to change the way the plant is designed and built over the next decade,” says this report by Dave Flessner in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Under the single combined operating license, the NRC must pre-approve the design and construction method for any new plant before any building work begins.”
The two-step process also suggests that the TVA may be able to move the application more quickly through the NRC, since the initial construction license will be a simpler affair. The NRC implemented the one-step construction-and-operating licensing process in 1992 after environmental groups bankrupted several utilities by opposing opening of the reactor after the utility had invested billions of dollars in building it. The COL allows the utility to obtain an operating license before breaking ground – although the process has never been tested and opposition groups are bound to drag it through the courts anyway.
Anti-nuclear advocates are already lining up to criticize the small modular reactors, which many believe represents the future of the nuclear industry. "We are highly skeptical that these modular designs are going to deliver as promised," Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told the Times Free Press. "There is a whole set of issues that are likely to be raised about these plants so TVA, the NRC and the contractors should expect a real fight."  Who would have guessed?
Nonetheless, the TVA effort holds the promise that SMRs may soon move off the drawing boards. TVA plans to build two of B&W’s 125-megawatt, factory-built reactors on the site of the old Clinch River Breeder Reactor, another promising technology that was halted by the Carter Administration.
Industry and utility officials are hopeful that the piecemeal strategy of SMRs will prove easier to manage than full-scale, on-site-constructed 1,500-MW reactors. "Any time you can do a lot of work in a factory environment, you have a lot more control on schedule and costs," said Rick Bonsall, vice president of B&W.

Read more at the Chattanooga Times Free Press


Friday, October 22nd, 2010

“Disruptive technology” was a phrase that kept coming up at Infocast’s Small Modular Reactors Conference in Washington, DC this week.

The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he showed that even the innovators of new technology can hurt themselves by introducing it if they are already well established in the old technology. Therefore, new technologies are usually developed by newcomers in the field.
The description would seem to fit the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance at this moment. The proposals for small reactors are coming mostly from upstart companies such as NuScale, Hyperion, Advanced Reactor Concepts, Radix, TerraPower and a reincarnated Babcock & Wilcox, which has dropped out of the full-scale field. Meanwhile, the established companies – AREVA, Westinghouse, General Electric and General Atomics – are “keeping up with the Jones” at best.
But there is a new element to the equation – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The limiting factor in any reactor development, old or new, in this country, at least, will be getting licensed by the NRC. The Commission’s time – which is subject to Congressional appropriations and dedicated to safety issues first – can be finite even at its pass-through rate to users of $260 hour.  And any effort spent on SMRs could logically be subtracted from time spent reviewing larger reactors. Thus, when Hyperion sat down with NRC officials earlier this month, the company was only adding to the Commission’s overload.

There won’t be any Apples or Netscapes upsetting the established order in the nuclear industry. Ultimately, along with securing customers, everything will depend on successfully navigating uncertain NRC regulatory regime waters over a five-year period at a minimum. In this department, established technologies will have an advantage, since, even more than major corporations, bureaucracies have trouble adjusting to innovation.
“I believe if the nuclear industry is going to succeed, we have to succeed as a whole,” said Gary Barbour, senior advisor for regulatory affairs at NuScale Power at the conference. In winning public acceptance, this is obviously true. But is there also a sibling rivalry?  Are big and small reactors partners or rivals?  Are small reactors and large reactors an either/or proposition for the industry or can the industry and the NRC multi-task?  Are small reactors an untimely distraction at a time when the Renaissance should be focused on consummating a spate of new large reactor deployments over this decade?




Friday, July 16th, 2010

By William Tucker
Last April, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu sounded an optimistic note in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.  While the U.S. is challenged in the manufacturing of full-sized reactors market, he said, an opportunity was opening in small modular reactors in the range of 75 to 150 megawatts.

“Small modular reactors  . . have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival. . . . Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants . . .. If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.”

The article caused a flurry of excitement in the nuclear industry where a bevy of companies — ranging from established competitors Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), GE, Westinghouse and General Atomics to emerging companies such as NuScale and Hyperion — were advancing new SMR initiatives.  The government was becoming a proponent for serious nuclear energy innovation.  Legislation was introduced in the Congress to spur development and $40 million proposed in the President’s FY2011 budget request. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed suit projecting approval of a design as early as 2017.  TVA announced its interest in SMR deployment. Experienced manufacturers such as Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman were at the ready. And this week, Bechtel jumped on board the SMR express.  

Notwithstanding the U.S. awakening in this arena, the rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly.  Toshiba has a 10-MW “4S” (Super Safe, Small and Simple) reactor it offering to give to Galena, an isolated Alaskan village, as a demonstration.  Russia has a modular reactor it is floating into Siberian villages on barges.  Two weeks ago the Koreans announced they are entering the field as well.

Ironically we’ve been building “small modular reactors” for 50 years.  They go on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. The reason B&W has a technical domain in SMRs — and related U.S. manufacturers have expertise in this market — is because it already has a business supplying them to the Navy.

But at the current pace of NRC design and licensing approval, it may be the better part of a decade before anybody can get something out the door in the U.S.  By that time, agile Japanese and Korean competitors may have moved out front in the global market.

So is it realistic to think America can compete in this field international?  And if not, what can we do about it?


Thursday, July 15th, 2010

From the Editors:
The drive toward smaller modular reactors took a big step forward this week with word that Bechtel, the San Francisco engineering giant, is signing on with Babcock & Wilcox in a joint venture to develop them. The move would put huge momentum behind the effort to develop small designs and get them through approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

B&W announced its “mPower” reactor, a 125-MW design, last summer.  To date, however, the NRC has told vendors of small reactors, such as Hyperion, of California, that it in effect does not have time to look at their designs.

Bechtel, the most experienced nuclear construction and engineering firm in the world, has done work on 64 of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.  “They don’t do science projects,” Christofer Mowry, president of B&W, told the Wall Street Journal in indicating Bechtel intended to devote serious effort to the job.

“We’ve got 5,000 engineers with the word `nuclear’ on their resumes," Jack Futcher, president of B&W told Journal reporter Rebecca Smith.  “We think we’re the premier contractor.”  

The mPower reactor and others like could change the entire game of nuclear construction.  Instead of huge on-site efforts that take a minimum of five years, the reactors could be built in factories and shipped by rail to the site, where multiple units could be assembled like Lego blocks. The strategy introduces standardization, cuts construction costs and allows utilities to add additional capacity in bite-sized portions instead of betting $5-10 billion on a project that may not produce electricity for close to a decade. 

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu endorsed the SMR concept in a The Wall Street Journal editorial last April and suggested that American companies – more or less out-competed in the construction of giant reactors – might find a niche in the international market.  Even so, the Russians, Japanese and Koreans have already entered the field with small reactor designs.  With the glacial pace of NRC approval comparatively and the reluctance of American companies to become involved in the nuclear industry, it appeared that Secretary Chu might be overly optimistic.  Today the landscape looks a lot more promising.