SMRs on Standby
Responding to Customer Needs
Published In: EnergyBiz Magazine May/June 2014
For more than 125 years, Westinghouse has been a world leader in technology innovation.
Westinghouse developed the first U.S. commercial nuclear power plant in 1957.
More recently, Westinghouse has led the nuclear industry in developing small modular reactor or SMR technology, a revolutionary approach based on the advanced AP1000 reactor design, which is currently being built in the United States and China.
A major strength of the Westinghouse SMR design is that it leverages the existing licensing of the AP1000 plant, which already has received design certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Beyond that, the operational experience from the development of the AP1000 plant would be transferable to the Westinghouse SMR, in effect providing a large-scale prototype.
The Westinghouse SMR is a 225-megawatt integral pressurized water reactor. Its design, including its passive safety systems, reactor internals, and fuel assemblies, was founded on AP1000 design technology.
Bringing this technology to market requires significant resources and the cooperation of many parties. The energy industry has long-term horizons for technology development and investment. For this reason, the risks of commercialization are high, so public-private partnerships are crucial to drive new technology and product concepts to the marketplace.
That’s why Westinghouse advanced an SMR development program with a utility partnership group, the NexStart SMR Alliance led by Ameren Missouri.
This alliance consists of industry organizations that see the potential in the Westinghouse SMR and its ability to be an important source of emission-free electrical energy both in the U.S. and around the world. Last year, Westinghouse completed manufacturing, assembling and testing of two SMR fuel test assemblies.
When Westinghouse did not receive Department of Energy funding for accelerated development of SMR technology, the company re-prioritized its SMR resources to areas with greater near-term economic potential.
Volatility in the fossil fuel and electricity markets has added to the uncertainty for smaller-scale generation facilities of many types, giving utility executives pause in their long-term capital investment decisions surrounding future capacity. Simply put, an investment in SMR nuclear technology does not compare favorably right now with other options currently available in the marketplace, and the need to accelerate deployment of the SMR is not as compelling as it was only two years ago.
That left Westinghouse with two options: continue to invest resources in a market that currently has no customers, or redirect resources into established markets with well-defined and significant customer needs. Other vendors pursuing the SMR market are subject to these same market conditions and will follow their own courses of action.
Westinghouse will remain focused on more pressing customer priorities: the successful completion and startup of eight AP1000 plants in the United States and China, new AP1000 plant projects globally and nuclear power plant decommissioning services, which is estimated to be a $1 billion-per-year business.
However, recent history has taught us that fossil fuel prices rise and fall, sometimes significantly. When market conditions make SMR technology more competitive, Westinghouse will be there. When customers do call for the SMR, Westinghouse will lead the industry again in this new sector.
In the meantime, a team of Westinghouse engineers and business staff remains assigned and committed to the SMR program to ensure that the Westinghouse SMR product investment is protected and available for additional investment and licensing completion when market conditions warrant.
Westinghouse has not abandoned the SMR market. Quite to the contrary, the company has participated, and will continue to participate actively, in the SMR community. When the market demands it, Westinghouse SMR technology will be ready to deploy.
Danny Roderick is president and chief executive officer of Westinghouse Electric Company.