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GE Hitachi joins the field that is pursuing SMR licenses

image credit: Credit: GE Hitachi

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy said it has begun the regulatory licensing process in the U.S. for its BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR).

The company said it submitted its first licensing topical report (LTR) for the design to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The LTRs are intended to serve as the basis for developing a Preliminary Safety Analysis Report that could eventually be submitted to the NRC by a utility customer.

The BWRX-300 is a proposed 300 megawatt (energy) (MWe) water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that draw on the design and licensing of GE Hitachi's existing ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor).

By making use of the existing ESBWR design certification, using licensed nuclear fuel designs, incorporating existing components and supply chains and implementing simplifications, the company said the BWRX-300 "can become cost-competitive with power generation from combined cycle gas plants and renewable energy platforms."

In early February, GE Hitachi and ČEZ, a. s., an integrated electricity conglomerate, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to examine the feasibility of building a BWRX-300 in the Czech Republic. ČEZ operates two nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic. Together, they generate roughly one-third of the country’s electricity. The Czech government plans to replace aging coal plants with new nuclear and renewable energy resources.

In September, NuScale Power  said it signed an MOU with ČEZ Group to explore applications for NuScale’s SMR. The agreement calls for sharing nuclear and technical expertise between the two companies, including information relating to nuclear supply chain development, construction and operation and maintenance.

The February announcement by GE is the latest in a series of developments involving SMR technology. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority in late December won approval for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to potentially build and operate SMRs. The 20-year permit approved a 935-acre site near Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Clinch River for a nuclear facility with a generating capacity of up to 800 MW.

And in Canada in late 2019, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories selected the first recipients of the Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative, which aims to accelerate deployment of SMR technology.

The four projects selected include:

  • Reactor developer Moltex Canada, along with the University of New Brunswick, which seek to build and optimize a test apparatus to explore the potential of converting used Canadian deuterium uranium (CANDU) power reactor fuel into a fuel form capable of powering their stable salt reactor design. CANDU pressurized water reactors are the standard for nuclear power generation in Canada.
  • Kairos-Power proposes developing a tritium management strategy for its high-temperature fluoride salt-cooled reactor design. This project would include early work to identify technologies to implement this strategy.
  • UltraSafe Nuclear Corp. proposes work to resolve an array of technical questions in support of its micro modular reactor. These include fuel processing, reactor safety, and fuel and graphite irradiation, among others.
  • Terrestrial Energy Inc. will evaluate the applicability of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation technologies to the IMSR400 reactor and other SMR designs. Its work will look at opportunities to make use of the ZED-2 reactor, as well as develop new experimental capabilities related to molten salt reactors.
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