Department of Energy misses target for second round of grants for small modular reactors
No announcement to be made on September 17
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Department of Energy missed its target for announcing the recipient of a $226 million grant to design and license a “small modular reactor,” often referred to as an SMR. This delay points to trouble with the theoretical reactors that the grant would subsidize.
Friends of the Earth learned from a DOE official that the September 17, 2013 target to announce a second SMR grant will be missed. The DOE has not been able to complete its review of the grant applications due to the complicated nature of the reactor designs, which only exist on paper. Three of the companies competing for this second SMR subsidy (NuScale hoping to build in South Carolina, Holtec also hoping to build in South Carolina, and Westinghouse hoping to build in Missouri) failed to win grants last year when Babcock & Wilcox received $79 million to move ahead with its SMR design at the site of the abandoned Clinch River breeder reactor in Tenn. A fourth applicant, General Atomics, recently entered the fray with a gas cooled reactor design — the only non light water reactor design being considered.
On March 11, 2013, DOE issued a solicitation of SMR vendors entitled “Financial Assistance Funding Opportunity Announcement- Cost-Shared Development of Innovative Small Modular Reactor Designs,” in which it was stated that “DOE anticipates notifying applicants selected for award by 09/17/2013 and making award(s) by 01/16/2014.” DOE has defined a “small modular reactor” as a as reactor unit “with a nominal output of 300 megawatts electric.” Under this program, the DOE will provide up to 50 percent of the funding for design and licensing, up to a government share of $226 million, with the award being matched by the company receiving the grant. DOE will provide no construction funds. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing schedule, no SMR license applications have yet been submitted.
“The delay in this second round of SMR subsidy announcements signals that the path to licensing and construction will be rocky,” said Katherine Fuchs, nuclear subsidies campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “The vendors are unable to say how they will fund construction or if the reactors would ever be economical, so at this point their future is totally up in the air.”
In addition to the DOE’s delay, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research recently issued a report highly critical of the prospects for SMRs. Presenting evidence from the nuclear industry, the report determines that SMRs will likely be less economically efficient than existing large-scale reactors. The report, issued last month, also raises significant safety questions about SMRs, including how many reactor operators would be assigned to each package of SMRs.
With today’s delay by the DOE, a lack of private financing, and the questions raised in the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research’s report, the future of the small modular reactor program is dim indeed.