WASHINGTON, D.C.—A cost-shared partnership between the government and private sector can boost development of small, scalable reactors and provide energy companies with a new way to help the nation meet its energy and environmental goals, a nuclear energy industry leader told a congressional committee today.
In testimony submitted to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Nuclear Energy Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel urged federal lawmakers to approve the Obama administration’s $67 million request for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support program. He called it the nuclear industry’s “highest priority” for DOE’s fiscal 2012 budget.
Independent domestic and global studies have verified the need for expansion of nuclear energy and other carbon-free generation to meet the nation’s energy and environmental priorities. But there are financial challenges that warrant government participation in a public/private partnership modeled on prior programs that have proven successful, Fertel said.
“The capital costs for today’s large reactors are a financing challenge for some energy companies, especially those operating in competitive electricity markets. Small-scale reactors can complement large nuclear plant projects by expanding potential markets in the United States and abroad for carbon-free electricity production,” Fertel said. “Their small size and innovative features expand the range of sites suitable for development, such as remote and arid regions.”
Small reactors with an electric generating capacity of 300 megawatts (MW) or less can be built in factory settings using state-of-the-art construction techniques and then transported for final assembly at a plant site. They also are a viable substitute for aging power plants.
Executives from reactor vendors Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy, NuScale Power and Westinghouse Electric Co. testified at the hearing chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“Small reactors’ attributes make them well-suited to replace older generating capacity. Various analyses show that 30,000 to 50,000 MW of older coal-fired generating capacity may be shut down before 2020 as a result of tighter air quality requirements,” Fertel said.
Fertel cited a recent study by the U.S Department of Commerce showing that a small reactor building program can take advantage of domestic manufacturing capacity. A program of this nature could result in new commercial opportunities for U.S. firms and workers and create new jobs in manufacturing, engineering, transportation, construction, craft labor and other areas.
“Small reactors manufactured here at home will help the United States re-establish nuclear energy leadership and influence around the world. When we develop the innovative, clean-energy technologies the world demands, we can transfer our safety, security and nonproliferation culture along with our technology,” Fertel said.
Small reactors have appealing safety features, he noted. They are being designed with independent underground containments for each module, as well as independent safety systems protected within those underground containments. These same features provide the capability to withstand aircraft impacts and, coupled with their small footprint and limited access points, protect against potential security threats.
“The potential benefits of small, modular nuclear energy plants are substantial and the technologies should be pursued and supported,” Fertel said. “Reducing the time to market is a key to realizing a fair share of the global market and influencing the international safety and security culture and the proposed DOE cost-shared small reactor program will help achieve this goal.