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Seeing demand for small nuclear units grow, Westinghouse to market 300-MW reactor


Executives say reuse of existing technology will avoid delays

Market for smaller reactors has emerged in recent years: CEO

First unit could be operating by 2033, company says

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US nuclear vendor Westinghouse is developing a smaller 300-MW version of the AP1000 nuclear reactor design being used in Georgia in a bid to meet what its executives said May 4 was a need for smaller generating units to supply power and offer non-power uses like hydrogen production.

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Company officials announced the AP300 reactor design during a news conference, saying a single-reactor plant could be built for $1 billion in capital costs. The reactor is a pressurized water reactor that will borrow components from the AP1000 in an effort to avoid licensing and construction delays that affected the larger unit's deployment, Westinghouse executives said.

The new design is different from an earlier Westinghouse SMR, of 225-MW, that had been proposed for licensing in the UK and US. The company abandoned that project in 2014 saying there was no market for smaller reactors.

Today things have changed, Westinghouse CEO Patrick Fragman said during the news conference.

"Westinghouse has been looking a lot at SMR designs in the past, but the market was never really there," Fragman said. "We thought, going back to the drawing board, having a derivative of the AP1000, leveraging the DNA of the AP1000 and offering very attractive economics ... was effectively the best chance to be among the first."

Westinghouse will compete with a series of other small reactor designs that have gained traction in the past several years. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's 300-MW BWRX-300 has been selected by Ontario Power Generation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Synthos Green Energy for projects in Canada, Tennessee and Poland, respectively. NuScale Power is planning to build a plant comprising several 77-MW reactors at a site in Idaho for customer Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems with US Department of Energy financial support.

The 1,200-MW AP1000 reactor was designed with more passive safety systems and intended to be easier to build than reactors which preceded it.

While there was considerable enthusiasm around 2005 that these reactors would be built in large quantities, the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accident, falling natural gas prices in North America and a flattening of power demand meant that few such projects went forward.

Those that did were plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, with the first EPR reactor in Finland and the Vogtle nuclear plant expansion in Georgia just now coming online, despite starting construction in 2005 and 2012, respectively. Four AP1000s are operating in China and one is operating in Georgia at Georgia Power's Vogtle site, with commercial operation expected by the end of June and a second unit approaching fuel loading.

Westinghouse officials said the reliance on the AP1000 design as the basis for the AP300 would smooth the path for licensing and construction.

"It's about re-using an existing supply chain, a mature design," Fragman said.

While components such as the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators and fuel assemblies will be similar to those in the AP1000, they will be "slightly smaller," said David Durham, president of energy systems for the company, during the news conference.

Westinghouse will apply to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for certification of the design, expected by 2027, Fragman said. Then it will take about three years for site-specific licensing and three years to build the first plant, with power being delivered to the grid from an AP300 in 2023, he added.

The company has been discussing the SMR with potential customers for some time, but cannot name them, Durham said. He said customers beyond traditional utilities are likely, and the reactor could be used for desalination, district heating and hydrogen production as well as power generation.