S.C. Hopes to Lead in Small Modular Nuclear Reactors
By Sarita Chourey
Morris News Service
June 20, 2012 — COLUMBIA -- Thousands of jobs could be coming to South Carolina, if federal funding helps develop small modular reactors in the state, a prospect that drew a challenge from a nuclear safety group during a press conference Tuesday.
Government and industry leaders gathered outside the S.C. State House to lay out how a grant program from the U.S. Department of Energy could strengthen the state's economy and plug it into the potential $100 billion market.
During Tuesday's event, nuclear-safety activist Tom Clements tried to ask Republican Gov. Nikki Haley how the Palmetto State would address the risk that South Carolina could be stuck with spent fuel as a result of the new small modular reactors (SMR).
"It's logical that the spent reactors and all the spent nuclear fuel would come back here to South Carolina. Are you advocating that we become some kind of holding ground?" said Clements, addressing Haley.
"That's a different conversation altogether," she responded. "This is about new technology and the new way that we look at nuclear. And so this is not a side conversation that we're going to have ... ."
Clements was then confronted by a Haley staff member, who sought to curtail his questions.
Holtec International, whose corporate headquarters are in Jupiter, Fla., is among those competing for federal energy funding to design, license, manufacture and commercialize SMR technology.
Representatives from Holtec, SCE&G and Areva, as well as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, others, also convened around the podium at Tuesday's press conference. SCE&G has offered to operate the reactor if Holtec builds it at the Savannah River Site.
"Not only do we have the incredible regulatory environment, we have great support at the federal level, at the state level, and certainly at the local level ... which is, I must say, rare," said Benjamin.
Haley said landing the new industry would benefit generations.
"We want the country to see South Carolina is stepping forward not backward," she said.
In April NuHub, a South Carolina nuclear-focused consortium of public, private, higher ed and business development groups, announced it was partnering with Holtec in its federal SMR development bid, as well as with Oregon-based NuScale Power. Four companies are believed to be vying for the grants.
The application period closed on May 21. Winners are expected to be chosen in September, according to the DOE, which issued an announcement of the program on March 22. There is no a pre-determined location for the reactor development, so work could take place anywhere in the country.
Through cost-share partnerships between the energy department and private industry, the projects are aimed at supporting new engineering, design certification and licensing for up two small modular reactor designs over five years.
The federal government would put forth $450 million, and private entities would match the amount. The agency is looking for SMR projects that have the best shot at being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and operating commercially 10 years from now.
On Monday, federal officials would not release details about the companies that are in the running for the initiative.
Kris Singh, Holtec's president and chief executive officer, said the site of a SMR is about 5 acres and that the licensing process should move swiftly, considering the reactor is "gravity-driven" and operates as a "self-running device."
Holtec has promised to return the public funding if its technology fails to be licensed and developed.
The Department of Energy says SMR's offer safety, construction and economic benefits and are about one-third the size of current nuclear plants. The technology would be stationed at the Savannah River Site, which is near Aiken, but Singh said Tuesday an area factory would also be built.
"The Obama Administration and the energy department are committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every source of American energy, including nuclear power, and strengthens our competitive edge in the global clean energy race," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in the March agency announcement.
"Through the funding for small modular nuclear reactors announced today, the energy department and private industry are working to position America as the leader in advanced nuclear energy technology and manufacturing."
After Tuesday's press conference Clements said the risks of nuclear waste production must be addressed.
"If a modular reactor facility were located at the Savannah River Site, there's likelihood that once these modules are shipped overseas, the spent reactor that's highly radioactive with the spent fuel would come back to the production site," he said.
"We are at risk once again of becoming a nuclear dumping ground if this project goes forward as the company has presented it."
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