Graphic courtesy of NuScale
Cross-section diagram of small-scale plant using NuScale reactor. Fluor hopes to build commercial-scale plants with the developer.

In a move designed to help the financially strapped developer and give the contractor an entry into the emerging market for small nuclear reactors, engineering, procurement and construction giant Fluor Corp. has taken a majority ownership stake in modular nuclear-reactor designer NuScale Power.

Fluor's $30-million investment, announced on Oct. 13, will give the Irving, Texas-based company more than 50% ownership of NuScale, based in Corvallis, Ore. The developer will maintain its separate identity and headquarters, says John Hopkins, Fluor group executive for corporate development and new ventures.

As part of the agreement, Fluor will handle EPC for the small modular reactors when they are built as new nuclear plants. NuScale expects to bring its first 45-MW reactors to market by 2020. Fluor will offer engineering support as NuScale moves through the reactor licensing process with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  

NuScale began developing its small reactor in 2000 after receiving a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Earlier this year, the company, however, faltered financially after the Securities and Exchange Commission began a civil action against NuScale’s major investor, the Michael Kenwood Group.

“Our financial challenges were not so simple,” said NuScale CEO Paul Lorenzini. In June, Fluor stepped up with bridge funding and began its due diligence to take ownership in the company.

Fluor had been looking at the small modular market for about two years, Hopkins said.

NuScale's 45-MW self-contained light-water nuclear reactor is a fraction of the size of current reactors. By design, the plants can be scalable, but NuScale’s typical business model is a 12-unit reactor capable of producing 540 MW.

Bruce Landry, NuScale’s chief marketing officer, said the company has had dozens of inquiries about its technology from within the U.S. and from other countries.

NuScale was the first U.S. company to begin developing a small light-water nuclear reactor. About three other U.S. companies also are developing small modular reactors. Last year, Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy Inc. and Bechtel Power Corp. announced a "formal alliance" to design, license and deploy what they said would be "the world's first commercially viable" next-generation small modular plant. It is being based on B&W's trademarked mPower technology.

Maurice Gunderson, an engineer and one of the original investors in NuScale who also attended the Fluor announcement, noted the earlier difficulties of attacting the interest of large investors in the small modular technology because it was so new.

“We dreamed of a Fluor,” he said.