The Dept. of Energy has announced the winner of the initial part of a two-phase award for the commercial deployment of small modular reactors, or SMRs, in the U.S.

The first project award, announced on Nov. 20, goes to a joint-venture team of Charlotte, N.C.-based Babcock & Wilcox and San Francisco-based Bechtel, working in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Bechtel is the architect-engineer, and B&W is the technology provider. TVA hopes to acquire a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license for up to four B&W mPower SMRs at Clinch River in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The grant is a boon to the emerging SMR industry, which advocates say would allow nuclear power generation to be a viable opportunity for more utilities.


According to DOE Secretary Steven Chu, supporting the development and commercial deployment of SMR technology is part of the administration's "all of the above" strategy for energy. "The Obama administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America's energy future," Chu says.

The team will receive part of a $452-million pot set aside by DOE to support the successful commercial deployment of SMRs.

The B&W team will match DOE's grant, DOE says. "The specific government investment will be negotiated between the Energy Dept. and Babcock and Wilcox for the current award," the DOE said in an e-mailed statement. The final cost-sharing agreement is expected to be finalized early in 2013, the department says.

Meanwhile, the DOE says it plans to issue another award for the second portion of the funding. Although the amount has yet to be determined, it will fall within the total $452 million set aside for the DOE's SMR licensing program.

However, the DOE funding, which will be spread out over five years for the first phase of the award, is contingent on congressional appropriations. The department's SMR licensing technical-support program received $67 million in fiscal 2012, and it has requested $65 million for fiscal 2013.

A team led by Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Co. says it is interested in applying for the second funding opportunity. Danny Roderick, Westinghouse president and CEO, says, "We look forward to cooperatively working with the DOE to ultimately secure and match investment funds."

The Westinghouse team includes Ameren Missouri, St. Louis; Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo., and the NextStart SMR Alliance, a consortium of current and prospective nuclear plant owners and operators.

Chris Mowry, president of Babcock & Wilcox's mPower, says the B&W-Bechtel joint venture already has spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on the TVA project. Substantive design was completed about a year ago. "Right now, we're about 18 months out from submitting our design to the NRC for certification," Mowry says.

SMRs would make nuclear technology more accessible, Mowry adds. Currently, only large, regulated utilities can afford it. SMR technology "is about one-tenth of the cost" of traditional reactors, he notes.