Thursday, October 13, 2011

Engineering and Construction Giant Fluor Gets Behind NuScale's Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Project

Fluor, the largest publicly traded engineering-and-construction firm in the U.S., is expected to announce Thursday that it has purchased a majority stake in NuScale, which is based in Corvallis, Ore., for $30 million.

Fluor plans to help NuScale get regulatory approval for its reactor, which at 45 megawatts is far smaller than conventional reactors that can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of power. The Department of Energy is supporting development of small reactors as an alternative to large ones that are vastly more expensive.

Smaller reactors, which can be built in factories, are also meant to be safer than such bigger reactors as the multiunit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan...

... Fluor, which ended the second quarter with $2.2 billion of cash and an order backlog valued at $40 billion, said it is making the investment in NuScale in order to participate in a potentially important trend in the nuclear industry favoring less costly reactors.

"We're planning for the future," said John Hopkins, group executive for corporate development at Fluor, which is based in Irving, Texas.

He added that Fluor, which built about 20 large reactors in the 1970s and 1980s, wants to do more nuclear work and would probably help with engineering and construction of the NuScale units. _WSJ

With engineering and construction giant Fluor now backing NuScale, we are likely to see more giant engineering firms getting into the small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) race. The US NRC is currently reviewing 6 SMR designs: Babcock and Wilcox is pushing its mPower design. Westinghouse has its own SMR design. Toshiba and GE-Hitachi each have a design they are pushing. The Fluor-NuScale design brings us to 5, and Hyperion -- the lone tiny-Tim in the group -- rounds the number to 6. Hyperion has received some DOE funding, and the company has signed an agreement to test its reactor at the DOE Savannah River Site.

With the cost of NRC licensing exceeding $250 million, and the timescale involved measuring into the decades, these new reactors require big money backing. NuScale should benefit significantly from its association with Fluor -- which has a top-notch reputation in the industry, according to Al Fin industrial engineers.
The investment is a big deal for Oregon-based NuScale as well as the modular nuclear reactor industry. These reactors are designed to have smaller generation capacities and to allow customers to add them as they see fit over time. A big challenge, in addition to making sure the reactors can generate power safely over time, is to demonstrate that these smaller reactors can produce power cheaply (check out our list of nuclear startups).

If successful, modular nuclear reactors could be built on corporate properties to power office buildings and industrial operations. Utilities also are keenly interested in the idea of building out a centralized nuclear power plant over time, Merchon said.

NuScale’s technology initially came from Oregon State University, which licensed it to NuScale in 2007. The reactor design involves using nuclear fuel to generate thermal energy to heat water and create steam, which is then piped to a turbine generator to produce electricity. Each NuScale system is made up of a reactor, turbine-generator and other related equipment, and it has 45 megawatts of generation capacity. _GigaOm

Small modular reactors are likely to make safe, reliable nuclear power more affordable to a wide range of customers -- from military bases to large industrial parks to small cities and large towns.

Even relatively small communities in remote locations -- such as on islands, seasteads, or in the Arctic or Antarctic -- are likely to seriously consider SMRs, once they are available and prove themselves. Areva is already working on an undersea SMR reactor design, which may eventually play a role in robotic energy and mineral development in the deep sea environment.

SMRs are also likely to participate in the ongoing development of large bitumen, kerogen, and methane hydrate deposits. For that application, gas cooled reactors might be preferred due to the higher levels of heat available.

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