Ephraim, Utah – Nuclear technology that could be deployed by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) in a Carbon-Free Power Project was described recently to Snow College students.

Students received a crash course in innovative nuclear technology from Dr. Jose N. Reyes, one of the world’s foremost nuclear scientists, during a visit to campus on Jan. 29.

Dr. Reyes is chief technology officer for NuScale Power, which is leading the world in small modular nuclear reactor technology to produce electricity. Reyes is an internationally recognized expert on passive safety system design, testing and operations for nuclear plants. (See his biography.)

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are carbon-free and pollution-free, Reyes told the students, and are dramatically safer than the large reactors now producing electricity in states and nations across the world. SMRs could replace coal plants as the source of clean, safe, reliable electricity in the United States and internationally.

While in Ephraim, Reyes also met with Snow College President Gary Carlston and other Sanpete County leaders. 

Reyes’ visit to Snow College had a local connection. He was invited by Ted Olson, a Snow College professor of mathematics and physics. Olson represents Ephraim City on the board of directors of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. UAMPS has entered into a Teaming Agreement with Reyes’ firm, NuScale Power, to investigate the possibility of constructing a Carbon Free Power Project using NuScale’s SMR technology. (See website: www.nuscalepower.com)

Besides Ephraim, three other towns in Sanpete County – Fairview, Spring City, and Mt. Pleasant – are members of UAMPS and could participate in the Carbon Free Power Project, using the nuclear technology developed by Reyes. Other UAMPS board members from Lehi, Monroe and St. George attended the Reyes speech.

UAMPS is seeking new baseload electrical supply because its coal plants are aging and are under severe pressure from new federal carbon and clean-air regulations. It would not be cost-effective to invest multi-millions of dollars to upgrade the coal plants to meet the new regulations, especially because regulatory requirements are uncertain. UAMPS has 45 members, mostly municipalities, in eight states. Through its SmartEnergy program, it is encouraging conservation and efficient use of electrical energy. It is also investing in renewable energy and currently owns and operates a wind farm in southern Idaho. (See UAMPS website.)

In a convocation speech before several hundred students, and later at a class of engineering and science students, Reyes described his success in developing small modular reactor technology.  He said he’s been working on this project for 15 years, and has spent his entire career in the nuclear energy industry. “We’re taking advantage of 50 years of nuclear technology evolution to develop our small modular reactor,” he said.

SMRs could create a renaissance in the nuclear industry, providing power systems that are constructed in factories, can be scaled according to demand, and that are nearly 100 percent safe.

Reyes and NuScale have 185 patents in numerous countries. They have developed a one-third scale reactor simulator model and control room and are working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for certification of the design. NuScale has received a $217 million matching grant from the Department of Energy, which is strongly encouraging development of the SMR technology.

NuScale has about 500 employees and has received major investments from Rolls Royce and Fluor Corporation, an international engineering/construction company. Fluor has invested some $230 million in NuScale.

The NuScale modules are very small compared with large, traditional reactors, Reyes said. “We could fit 126 of our modules in a traditional nuclear containment vessel,” Reyes told the students. He described to them the basic principles and processes of creating electricity using a nuclear reactor.

What makes SMR technology so much safer than large reactors are the passive safety systems build into the small modules that will cool and shut down safely, even without electricity or human operators. They use far fewer pumps, valves and pipes that can fail. NuScale SMRs are placed in a steel thermos, below ground, in a reservoir of water, and are built to withstand earthquakes, floods, fires, loss of power, and aircraft impact. If a reactor shuts down, cooling occurs through natural convection and gravity processes, requiring no electricity or operator action. 

Each module generates 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city of about 55,000 people. Modules are manufactured in factories, to ensure better quality control and uniformity.  The time and cost of constructing a nuclear plant is reduced by nearly half.

The small module concept provides excellent flexibility, Reyes said. “You can add modules as you need them. Adding a module isn’t a large construction project; it’s an installation project.” Fuel can last 2-4 years in a module before requiring refueling. While one module is refueled, the rest of the plant continues to produce power. “We just take just 50 megawatts off the grid at one time, instead of hundreds of megawatts in a big plant.” Refueling is relatively simple and can be done by in-house employees. Large plants must bring in up to 1,000 temporary specialists to refuel a big reactor.

Because the United States has no policy on nuclear waste storage, spent fuel from SMRs will be stored on-site in large concrete and steel casks, the same process used with large reactors. Spent fuel rods retain 95 percent of their energy, Reyes said, and hopefully will be able to be reprocessed in the future.

Reyes said NuScale is confident that the cost of electricity from SMR projects will be competitive with other sources of electrical energy. SMRs can also be integrated with renewable energy from wind and solar, providing stability and constancy to the electrical grid even as wind and solar fluctuate depending on weather and time of day. 

“A uranium pellet the size of the tip of your little finger has the energy equivalent of a ton of coal,” Reyes said. “We can produce clean, steady, constant electrical energy, carbon-free and pollution-free. Our plant will have a 60-year life.”

He said NuScale hopes to have its design certified by 2019 or 2020. A new plant could be operating about three years after that.