U.S. Nuclear Industry Receives a Boost from Small Modular Reactors

The U.S. nuclear industry’s future just got a little brighter. Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just green-lit Phase 6 of the Design Certification Application (DCA) for the first ever Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in the United States. Following on the heels of Xcel Energy’s similar project in Canada, the move signals a shift in America’s view of nuclear energy as a viable and innovative means of energy production going forward. The move also highlights a growing trend in the U.S. nuclear fleet—that of privatization.

The approval was granted to NuScale Power, a privately held design company headquartered in Oregon, which signifies the completion of the DCA. This opens the market for customers to begin purchasing design plans for the company’s SMRs, with the first official reactor set to be completed by 2029 in eastern Idaho. “This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire U.S. nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow,” said NuScale CEO John Hopkins, “This clearly establishes the leadership of NuScale and the U.S. in the race to bring SMRs to market. This is what DOE’s SMR Program was created to do, and our success is credited to strong bipartisan support from Congress.”

The importance of this announcement is twofold. On one hand it ushers in the era of SMRs, which represents mobility of production and speed of construction previously unheard of in the industry—because of their small size, most SMRs can be built off-site and moved or shipped to their intended location, which means they can be available relatively quickly at places where they’re needed the most. In addition, the simplicity of their design yields easier to replicate models and the ability to accelerate the licensing application process which often hamstrings their more traditional, aging predecessors.

On the other hand, the fact that this was developed by a private company means that the age of cumbersome research, NRC approvals, safety evaluations that hallmark the federal government’s plodding approach to regulating nuclear facilities, may well be over. In fact, the government itself seems to be in favor of turning research and development of nuclear technology over to the private sector, with small investment policies passed recently such as the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act. This creates a competitive, innovative market for emerging nuclear technologies such as SMRs to flourish in the 21st century.

As an industry leader in technological innovation and a dedicated Plug & Play supplier to the nuclear industry, OTEK looks forward to the new future SMRs have opened within the American nuclear fleet.

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