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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Babcock & Wilcox planning mini nuclear reactor

http://www.sunherald.com/218/story/1404515.html

By DUNCAN MANSFIELD - Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Babcock & Wilcox Co. announced plans Wednesday for a new class of mini nuclear reactors to be built in North American factories and shipped by rail to generating sites, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is evaluating what could become the first reactor location in Tennessee.

"This important project, we believe, will be a milestone in the nuclear renaissance," Brandon Bethards, CEO of Lynchburg, Va.-based B&W said during a teleconference from Washington.

The advanced light water reactor, named the "B&W mPower," represents "the harvesting of decades of nuclear manufacturing and design experience to provide a cutting-edge power generation source with emissions-free operation," he said.

The reactors will generate 125 megawatts - about one-tenth the size of a conventional commercial nuclear reactor - and offer several passive safety design features, including an underground containment that could accommodate storage for all of the spent fuel the reactor would use in a 60-year operating life.

A single reactor could power about 100,000 homes or a large factory. But more reactors can be added if needed.

The company plans to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for design certification by 2011 and have the first unit under construction by 2015 and powered up in 2018.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said B&W's licensing timeline is "not unreasonable, but at this point it is completely hypothetical." Other companies, including Toshiba, have discussed small reactors with the NRC, though none has submitted an application yet.

Burnell said the B&W design should contain many systems and technologies the NRC is familiar with in a standard pressurized water reactor. But building a reactor underground may require additional seismic analysis.

Knoxville-based TVA has signed a memorandum of understanding to assist the project by evaluating environmental conditions for a possible site for the first reactor. TVA nuclear executive Jack Bailey said TVA will examine a 1,300-acre site in nearby Oak Ridge where the scrapped Clinch River Breeder Reactor was to be built in the 1980s.

"I think you are coming into the market at the right time," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a longtime nuclear power advocate who hopes to see hundreds of manufacturing jobs created at B&W plants near Cleveland and Akron, as well as in Indiana, to build the reactor.

B&W expects to add up to 500 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the next few years in Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee and possibly Canada just to get the reactor through design and licensing, said John Fees, CEO of B&W's Houston-based parent company, McDermott International.

Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Tennessee Reps. Lincoln Davis and Zach Wamp also gave their support during the teleconference.

Alexander, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, has proposed the United States build 100 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years - doubling the 104 now in operation - in response to global climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"My fellow Tennessean Al Gore, who has won the Nobel Prize for his campaign on the dangers of global warming, has a line he often uses about nuclear power - 'Nuclear may have a role to play, but unfortunately reactors only come in one size - extra large,'" Alexander said.

"Well, until today, Al Gore has been right," Alexander said, calling the mini reactor a new alternative. "Global warming may be the inconvenient problem, but especially after today, nuclear power is the inconvenient answer," he said.

TVA and Chicago-based Exelon Corp. will participate in an industry council advising B&W on the mini reactor. Exelon operates 17 reactors at 10 plants, while TVA has six reactors at three sites, is finishing a seventh reactor and planning up to four more.

"We believe the (mini reactor) has the potential to be game changing, yet is also practical and lower risk for the energy industry at a time when it is clearly in need of new solutions for a cleaner, more efficient future," said Craig Lambert, Exelon's vice president for nuclear engineering.

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