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SRS told to hold off on small reactor projects

By Chuck Crumbo
Published Nov. 28, 2012

Work on small modular reactor initiatives at the Savannah River Site has been put on hold.

A directive from the U.S. Department of Energy ordered local officials to suspend all activities on small modular reactor, or SMR, technology until the fiscal year 2013 Continuing Resolution expires March 31.

The resolution was a stop-gap measure Congress approved last fall to fund the government through the presidential election and first quarter of 2013.

The directive, which the Energy Department issued as the request of the Office of Management and Budget, appears to have more to do with an accounting issue than SRS’ support for the small reactor program.

SRS had been funding the program through the Clean Energy Initiative, a spokeswoman said.

According to the White House website, the initiative aims to fund renewable energy projects such as wind and solar, and promote efficient use of energy. There is no mention of nuclear energy as part of the initiative.

SRS and the Energy Department have entered into separate memorandum of agreements with three companies to launch public-private partnerships in developing SMR technologies.

Two of the companies, NuScale Power and Holtec International, had submitted bids for an Energy Department grant to design, license and help develop a commercial version of a small modular reactor.

However, Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox received last week the first award to design, license and help develop a commercial version of a SMR partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel International.

Denver-based Gen4 Energy Company, formerly known as Hyperion Power Generation, also has a SMR development agreement with SRS. Gen4 did not apply for a portion of a $452 million SMR grant from the Energy Department.

The Energy Department, which oversees operations at the 200,000-acre facility in Aiken County, said the directive is not related to last week’s announcement.

“It’s important to note that that the funding opportunity announcement awarded last week is separate from the potential site evaluations discussed at the Savannah River Site, an agency spokeswoman said.

The Energy Department said it plans to issue a follow-on solicitation open to other companies – including those that lost in the first round – that focuses on furthering SMR efficiency, operations and design.

“The Energy Department is committed to restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing new nuclear energy technologies, including small modular reactors, that will help create new jobs and export opportunities and ensure that low-carbon nuclear energy continues to play an important role in America’s energy portfolio,” spokeswoman Niketa Kumar said.

Small reactor technology is generating support because it can be built in factories and transported to work sites.

Both NuScale, based in Corvallis, Ore., and Holtec, headquartered in Marlton, N.J., said they’re hopeful on receiving grant money in the second round of bidding.

Although two of the companies it has agreements with lost out on in the first round, SRS will see what it can do to further work on small reactors, those that generate less than 300 megawatts of power.

“We are going to continue to look for future opportunities,” SRS spokeswoman Barbara Smoak said. “And we’re looking at the comments that were made with the funding and see if we can better position ourselves.”

It’s possible, Smoak said, that more private funding will be sought for the SMR program at SRS.

“We still feel that the Savannah River Site has a lot to offer in the development of that technology,” she added.

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