Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) are getting a second life through a large investment by little know U.S. based Fluor, a big engineering and construction company. NuScale Power in Corvalis, Oregon was the beneficiary of the $30 million investment. NuScale Power designs SMRs and is aiming to have its first reactor up and running by 2020. The money will allow them to continue their licensing effort with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As opposed to traditional reactors that produce over 1,000 megawatts, SMRs produce around 40 megawatts.
Whether the nuclear industry, beset by a plethora of obstacles in its path toward revival, will once again become a growth industry is uncertain. Aside from the recent safety concerns brought about by the Fukushima accident, nuclear plants are troubled by long construction time frames, extremely high start-up costs, and myriad regulatory barriers. In addition, an energy market with plentiful cheap coal and increasing amounts of cheap natural gas does not make it easy for nuclear power to be cost competitive.
For proponents of nuclear power, an investment in the technology for these small, less expensive reactors may be a sign of faith in and viability of the industry. Modular reactors are made at a manufacturing site and brought to the power plant location already built and ready for installation. This makes it possible to reduce on-site construction, increase containment efficiency, and heighten nuclear fuel security. Bechtel and Babcock & Wilcox also recently announced a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority to work toward building six small mPower reactors.