Published June 19, 2012
Small modular reactors could someday replace South Carolina Electric & Gas’ aging fleet of coal-fired power plants, a top utility executive said Tuesday.
A small modular reactor, or SMR, would “fit nicely in that footprint” of a coal-burning plant, said Steve Byrne, COO for Cayce-based SCANA, parent of SCE&G, at a Statehouse news conference.
Instead of putting “very, very expensive” updates on the coal-burning plants, a non-polluting SMR might be a better option, Byrne said. He noted that a coal plant generates about 100 to 150 megawatts — about the same output as an SMR.
Byrne, along with Gov. Nikki Haley, was on hand at the news conference, offering support for the bid of Holtec International — one of the companies seeking to develop SMR technology.
Holtec has applied for one of two $226 million grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for development of an SMR. The federal agency also plans to offer a second grant to another company.
Holtec, designer of the reactor unit, has signed an agreement with NuHub, the commercial nuclear advocacy group in the Midlands, to build a demonstration commercial SMR at the Savannah River Site.
NuScale, a Portland, Ore.-based company, also is partnering with NuHub.
Haley said she wants to generate support for development of the SMR industry in South Carolina because it will bring investment and jobs.
“I want you to think of this just like the Olympics,” Haley said. “South Carolina is trying to vie for the Olympics. Every state wants it, every state is going to fight to get it, and every state is going to try to make itself look pretty enough.
“Pretty enough is not good enough. We’ve got to be aggressive enough,” she said.
The state will do whatever it can to support the industry, Haley added.
“We want to do everything we can to show them that the commitment goes both ways. And, we don’t only want to do this for South Carolina, but for the country,” Haley said.
One DOE grant could lead to the investment of $600 million and some 2,000 jobs, supporters of the SMR project said. Once it's up and running, the SMR industry could generate up to $100 billion a year in revenue, they added.
Holtec CEO Kris Singh said his company has told officials at the DOE that if it fails to get a license to build SMRs it will repay the grant.
“We’ll give the money back,” Singh said, attempting to damp concerns that the grant might be considered a government handout. “In our case, there’s no loss.”
Holtec’s product is a 160-megawatt pressurized water reactor that has been designed to withstand the most severe natural disasters by relying on gravity under all operating and emergency conditions, Singh said.
“It’s the only reactor that’s Fukushima proof,” he said, referring to the accident that struck a Japanese nuclear plant following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
If Holtec, based in Marlton, N.J., wins the DOE grant, it might be able to make its first reactor by 2018. The demonstration project could have its construction permit by 2014 and a unit could be operational by 2021.
DOE is expected to announce who won the grants some time in August, Singh said.