When it comes to the new technologies for nuclear energy, think small.
That is what industry leaders are saying in South Carolina, that Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Technology developed at the Savannah River Site could bring more jobs and manufacturing to the state.
Tuesday Governor Nikki Haley spoke out for a company vying for major investment funds from the U.S. Department of Energy to design, make and market SMRs. She says she wants to send a message to the Department of Energy: “This is something that South Carolina not only wants but we are going to fight for.”
Kris Singh is the CEO and President of Holtec International, a worldwide nuclear waste cleanup company. He has entirely funded the research and plans for a five-acre modular reactor, in the hopes they will be chosen for a federal cost-share investment amounting to $900 million.
The money will go to designs that are likely to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and can be up and running by 2022.
“It’s a technology contest…and so far it’s all our money,” Singh explains. “We will give the money back to the government if we fail to license. This is not a ‘pay us and if we don’t succeed, sorry’ situation.”
That answers one criticism coming from Tom Clements of the national Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. The watchdog of South Carolina’s role in handling nuclear weapons and waste said Holtec and its backer, French nuclear waste processor Areva, are simply going for the federal funds. He says the project is unproven.
“Small modular reactors only exist on paper and there is no demonstrated economics for them…there is no clarity about them being licensed” says Clements.
At the same time, he says, “We are at a real risk of becoming a spent nuclear fuel dump for small modular reactors if this project goes forward.”
Holtec’s plan is to create the reactors at the Savannah River Site, with waste staying on site as well. Singh says the storage is safe for at least the next 300 years. After that, he believes technology advances will solve storage issues.
South Carolina Electric and Gas is behind Holtec, hoping that they will be able to “test drive” and eventually use SMRs. The reactors could be used by smaller towns or remote locations, as well as to replace aging reactors. Holtec’s Singh says the reactors are much more stable than the larger ones that melted down at Fukashima in Japan. This SMR model is designed to shut itself down if there is any sign of instability.
Governor Nikki Haley is behind this because the project promises thousands of jobs, with South Carolina at the forefront of this technology.
“We want to say South Carolina is ready to take on one of the small modular reactors. There are two projects that are going to be given by the Department of Energy this fall. We want both of them,” Haley says.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin supports the idea of such reactors in his area. “We just want to make sure that, whether this is at Savannah River Site or at Jenkinsville, that the mid-state has a role in this, ” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “If it in fact grows to the point that Dr. Singh says it will in 15 years, it will dwarf BMW, Boeing, it will dwarf any other industry in the state. So it has significant ramifications in terms of job creation.”
“Think of this like the Olympics,” says Gov. Haley. “Every state wants it, every state is going to fight to get it.
She adds, “We’re going to do everything we can to show the commitment goes both ways.”