More powerful small nuclear reactor receives US approval

In a major development for the US nuclear industry, and in a move which could yet prove pivotal for nuclear risk, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved an updated design for a more powerful small modular reactor (SMR).

The NRC first accepted NuScale’s design certification application for a plant comprising up to twelve 50 MWe power modules in March 2018, issued its final technical review in August 2020, and the NRC Commission voted to certify the design in July 2022. 

The company has subsequently uprated the capacity of the power unit to 77MWe and earlier this month submitted an application for NRC approval of a 6-unit configuration based on the uprated design. 

NuScale’s SMR plant has been known as VOYGR since December 2021.

US Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said SMRs are “no longer” an abstract concept. “They are real and they are ready for deployment thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national labs, industry partners, and the NRC. This is innovation at its finest and we are just getting started here in the US!”

NuScale Power President and CEO John Hopkins described the rulemaking as “historic” and acknowledged the role of the US Department Energy (DOE), which has provided more than $600 million in funding since 2014 to support the design, licensing, and siting of VOYGR and other domestic SMR concepts.

“The DOE has been an invaluable partner with a shared common goal – to establish an innovative and reliable carbon-free source of energy here in the US,” he said. 

“We look forward to continuing our partnership and working with the DOE to bring the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project to completion,” he added, referring to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) project to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR plant at a site at Idaho National Laboratory. 

UAMPS expects to submit a combined licence application to the NRC in the first quarter of 2024, with the plant’s first module to be operational by 2029 and full plant operation the following year.

NuScale Power has also agreements to deploy SMR plants in countries including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and Jordan, including an agreement with Polish copper and silver producer KGHM Polska Miedź to work towards deploying a first VOYGR plant in Poland as early as 2029.

KGHM Polska Miedź president Tomasz Zdzikot said the NRC decision was a “breakthrough moment” that “definitely” brings the Polish company closer to the implementation of its nuclear plans. “This is an important signal for us, confirming that small modular reactors are not only a vision of the future, but also a real answer to the energy needs of large industry,” he said.