Report details how SMRs could offer resilience for federal agencies

A report recently released by the Department of Energy details how small modular reactors, or SMRs, can provide energy resilience for federal agencies and focuses on a SMR project being developed by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The report, “Small Modular Reactors: Adding to Resilience at Federal Facilities,” was prepared by Kutak Rock LLP and Scully Capital Services Inc., with funding from DOE.

The report expands on a January 2017 report, “Purchasing Power Produced by Small Modular Reactors: Federal Agency Options.” That report focused on assisting federal agencies to identify options to participate in the purchase of power produced by SMRs, the structure and issues with financing an SMR, and the unique issues that federal agencies face when making power purchase decisions.

The January 2017 report identified how federal agencies can purchase SMR-produced power through long-term agreements by using the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems SMR project as an example.

New report identifies need for energy resilience

The new report released by the DOE identifies the need for energy resilience and how an SMR can provide such a service for federal agencies.

The report said that SMRs are designed to provide valuable resilience services as a secure, reliable, and flexible source of primary and backup power. “SMRs, coupled with transmission hardening, could provide highly reliable, non-intermittent, clean, and carbon-free power. SMRs can also easily store two years’ worth of fuel on-site,” the report noted.

Certain SMR designs allow for output to be varied over days, hours, or minutes, thereby allowing the SMR to ramp up quickly in the case of a grid outage and adjust to be in line with changing load demands.

Additionally, the report said that governmental entities are increasingly focusing on energy resilience through various steps including the passage of legislation, issuance of executive directives and the purchasing of resilient energy sources.

More specifically, U.S. military and other national defense facilities, such as DOE’s laboratories and weapons facilities, have made energy resilience a key operational priority and are actively procuring backup power at military bases.

(The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently launched a proceeding to evaluate the resilience of the bulk power system in the regions operated by regional transmission organizations and independent system operators). 

Report focuses on TVA project

As an illustrative example, the report focuses on the SMR project being developed by TVA in Oak Ridge, Tenn., on a site adjacent to critical DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration facilities.

In 2016, DOE asked TVA consider the work and potential impacts from supplying enhanced reliability to DOE’s facilities through the potential deployment of SMRs and associated transmission system features to the Oak Ridge Reservation.

The report notes that as the largest DOE science and energy laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the greatest consumer of electricity among the DOE’s sites and has many facilities that require a continuous energy supply to safeguard analytical results and machines.

In response to the request, TVA is exploring the inclusion of an SMR as a power source within TVA’s inventory that can be used to provide electric power resilience to the Oak Ridge Reservation and other potential uses.

TVA has identified the site for one or more SMRs on the Clinch River, which is owned and controlled by TVA and is located next to ORNL in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

TVA is currently working on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission permitting process for developing two or more SMRs on the Clinch River Site.

In its early site permit application, the report notes that TVA considered the environmental impacts associated with potential deployment of an underground transmission line from the SMR to the Bethel Valley substation at ORNL, which would make the transmission less vulnerable to weather events and intentional destructive acts.

The proximity of the Clinch River Site to the Oak Ridge Reservation “offers a unique opportunity to provide energy security for functions critical to national security,” the report said.

It said that the DOE and TVA could use an existing power supply agreement for the provision of SMR-produced power and services to the Oak Ridge Reservation. “Alternatively, TVA and DOE may use the authority in the Atomic Energy Act which authorizes DOE to enter into contracts for electric services for up to 25 years; however, such contract may be for a maximum of 20 years under TVA’s existing authority.”

Given the load characteristics of the Oak Ridge Reservation and its proximity to the Clinch River Site, the report said an SMR could be configured to allow the Oak Ridge Reservation to operate in an islanded mode during periods of grid outages. Additionally, the power plant’s configuration would allow the SMR to provide black start capability.

Furthermore, the report includes a set of recommendations to advance the deployment of SMRs. Specifically, it said that there are many ways the federal government can assist with making the financing and development of SMRs easier, both in its role as a customer and as a governing body, including:

  • Permit federal agencies to enter into agreements with a term of up to 30 years to purchase power produced by SMRs;
  • Facilitate TVA’s Clinch River Site project as a pilot project for SMRs, while simultaneously providing DOE with critical energy resilience and a potential opportunity to conduct research and isotope services;
  • Extend the 2005 Energy Policy Act production tax credits and allow applicability to public power entities; and
  • Authorize the DOE Loan Program to continue to support advanced reactors.

Lastly, it recommends that the DOE and the Department of Defense collaborate to identify facilities that could benefit from hosting or having an SMR located near the facility to achieve added energy resilience.

Details on UAMPS and SMR efforts

Meanwhile, with respect to UAMPS and SMRs, the first commercial 12-module NuScale Power SMR power plant is planned to be built on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory.

UAMPS in 2016 took a step forward in the development of its Carbon Free Power Project by identifying a preferred site within the boundary of the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory site near Idaho Falls, Idaho. The site selection process was conducted in collaboration with the DOE.

The Utah public power agency, which provides electricity at wholesale to more than 40 community-owned electric utilities in the Intermountain West, previously noted that it is studying the feasibility of deploying up to 12 small modular reactors at the Idaho site. One of its partners on the project is NuScale Power.

SMRs are one of the three elements of the UAMPS Carbon Free Power Project. Distributed generation and energy efficiency are the other key components.

In 2016, the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments program approved a $125,000 grant to help UAMPS in its efforts to prepare a COL application to submit to the NRC for the small modular reactor project. The grant was part of $436,250 in utility project grants and scholarships that were announced by the DEED program in April 2016.

The NRC recently concluded that application of NuScale Power’s unique safety design approach eliminates the need for class 1E power for its small modular reactor.