“I’m glad you came to our party!” said GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) chief nuclear officer Nicole Holmes as she prepared to announce that Wilmington, N.C.–based GEH will develop a standard design for its BWRX-300 boiling water small modular reactor with not one but three power producers representing three countries: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Ontario Power Generation (OPG), and Synthos Green Energy (SGE). Celebration was a theme throughout the March 23 event held in Washington, D.C., which was flush with dignitaries representing the United States, Canada, and Poland.
Following a series of remarks, representatives of the four companies signed a technical collaboration agreement to invest in the development of the BWRX-300 standard design and detailed design for key components, including the reactor pressure vessel and reactor internals. GEH “anticipates a total investment of around $400 million associated with the development,” and that cost will be met in part by contributions from TVA, OPG, and SGE. The power producers will also form a Design Center Working Group intended to ensure the standard design will be deployable—and licensable—in multiple jurisdictions.
Competitive and deployable: “If you believe in and want to achieve net zero by 2050, nuclear has to have a seat at the table, but we've got to earn our seat at that table,” said Jay Wileman, chief executive officer and president of GEH, during the announcement. “And to do that, we've got to be on schedule, on budget, and it's got to be a competitive cost. That is one of the foremost purposes we have there in . . . our common design, where you design it once and you build it multiple times.”
Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of TVA, said the agreement to cooperate on the standard design is about “partnership and leadership. What you should see here is partnership between a great technology company, GE Hitachi, and three great industrial companies in the power sector. . . . It’s a partnership between power companies—TVA, OPG, Synthos Green Energy. But it's more than that. It's a partnership between regulators—the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Polish regulator. But it’s yet more than that. It's about a partnership between three countries—the United States, Canada, and Poland. . . . that will demonstrate leadership in the industry and around the world to develop one of the critical solutions . . . to take us to that secure, decarbonized energy future.”
Department of Energy assistant secretary for nuclear energy Kathryn Huff applauded the agreement and spoke about ongoing research and development with GEH under the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy Advanced Construction Technologies Initiative, which is intended to make nuclear construction faster and cheaper, including through the use of modular “steel bricks” that could decrease on-site labor costs.
“You are part of the model the DOE would love to see. We love a public-private partnership, but a private-private-private-private partnership is even better,” Huff quipped, turning to the audience to add: “I encourage you all to congratulate them on joining us in what DOE is calling implementation season, because it's time to deploy, deploy, deploy.”
Go first together: While TVA, OPG, and SGE emphasized that they were working together to support the first BWRX-300 deployments, just one company can be the first to power up a BWRX-300. That will be OPG, at the Darlington site in Clarington, Ontario, where groundbreaking was held about three months ago and construction of what the companies are calling “the first grid-scale SMR” is expected to be complete by the end of 2028.
“It wasn't so much that OPG went first,” said Ken Hartwick, president and CEO of OPG. “I think what we did first was talk to a group of companies and people that we respect and trust, and decide to go first together. And I think by doing that we will accomplish something in Poland, in . . . the United States, in Canada, and many other countries because I think when they see us do this first as a team, it’s going to inspire confidence in many other places to begin the process.”
“For the first time ever, a private Polish company is investing in a design for nuclear power plants. We do this because GE Hitachi's state-of-the-art modular technology is simply ideal for decarbonizing energy and heat production in Poland, and also for our other zero-emission projects in the United Kingdom and throughout Central Europe,” said Rafał Kasprów, CEO of Synthos Green Energy.
Next steps: TVA announced in February 2022 that it would prepare a construction permit application for a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the company is exploring other sites in the TVA service area for potential SMR deployments, according to the announcement issued jointly by GEH, TVA, OPG, and SGE on March 23.
In Poland, ORLEN Synthos Green Energy (a joint venture between SGE and PKN Orlen) and its partners have started the prelicensing process by submitting an application to that country’s National Atomic Energy Agency for assessment of the BWRX-300. OSGE has initiated a site-selection process and intends to deploy a first unit by the end of the decade, with the potential for a fleet of BWRX-300s. Just over one month ago, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency signed an agreement to collaborate on SMR technology reviews.