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Strong Supply Chain Boosts NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor Plans

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NuScale Power reached a historic milestone in January 2023 when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final rule certifying the company’s design for a small modular reactor.

It was the first small modular reactor design certified by the federal regulatory agency and, at the time, Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy, said, “SMRs are no longer an abstract concept. They are real and they are ready for deployment.”

As it happened, the certification came with the economy still beset by the supply chain disruptions that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. But while some nuclear technologies may be vulnerable to supply chain issues because their designs call for specialized fuels and materials, “our nuclear components and equipment can be made by qualified vendors at existing facilities,” Scott Bailey, NuScale’s Vice President for Supply Chain, said.

The NuScale light-water small modular reactor that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified is designed to use existing manufacturing capability for specialized components and, for the rest of the plant, “commercial off-the-shelf thermal generating components and other readily available equipment for which there are many suppliers,” Bailey said.

The NRC’s design certification was for a 50-megawatt reactor – NuScale is in the process of a regulatory review for an uprated 77 megawatt design as part of a six module, NuScale VOYGR™ power plant.

Unlike conventional, large nuclear reactors, modular design allows for more flexibility in plant size, as well as for more flexible dispatch that can readily load follow and easily integrate into an electric power grid that has a growing share of intermittent renewable generation resources. NuScale’s design also leverages natural processes, such as convection and gravity, eliminating the need for large pumps and enabling the reactor to passively cool itself without additional water, power, or even operator action in emergency scenarios.

NuScale based the design of its technology on the ability of existing factories to fully fabricate its power modules. “Our power module has been sized to be shipped to the power plant site by truck, rail, or barge and installed at the site without the need for any in-field fabrication or construction,” Bailey said.

Taking the safety-related fabrication work out of the field reduces the risk of incurring cost overruns and missed deadlines and helps realize economies of scale associated with factory fabrication, Bailey added.

When NuScale begin developing its supply chain – well before the outbreak of COVID-19 – it engaged with approximately 40 qualified and experienced pressure vessel fabricators worldwide and determined that NuScale would utilize existing factories to fabricate the module in lieu of building its own factory, and major subcomponents could be manufactured at multiple manufacturer locations and shipped to a single location for assembly.

In April 2022, NuScale signed a contract with Doosan Enerbility for materials needed to deploy its first small modular reactor. The agreement called for Doosan to begin production of forging dies for NuScale’s upper reactor pressure vessel. An order for those materials has since been placed and the companies expect to begin full-scale equipment manufacturing by the latter half of 2023.

For nuclear fuel, NuScale has an existing and established supplier in Framatome, the majority-owned French nuclear power conglomerate.

“We are actively engaged with our manufacturing partners and will be ready to deliver the first NuScale Power Modules™ to a client by the end of this decade,” Bailey said, adding that NuScale VOYGR small modular reactor power plants are set to start providing energy to the grid in 2029 as part of the Carbon-Free Power Project being developed by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and its partners near Idaho Falls, Idaho, and to the RoPower Nuclear project in Romania.

Construction on the 462-megawatt Carbon-Free Power Project is slated to begin in 2026 with the first module scheduled to be in service in December 2029 with all modules in operation by November 2030.

NuScale and Doosan also said they are working to prepare for manufacturing additional reactor modules for future NuScale VOYGR plants with similar delivery dates.

“We have relationships with several other nuclear pressure vessel manufacturers to ensure sufficient capacity to scale and meet demand,” Bailey said. If NuScale’s sales exceed that capacity, “the manufacturers we are currently using could expand their capacity, if they are inclined to do so, or NuScale could partner with an experienced manufacturer to construct a purpose-built factory in the United States. Either way, we have an established supply chain.”

In April 2022, NuScale signed an agreement with the U.S. Reactor Forging Consortium, composed of North American Forgemasters, Scot Forge, and ATI Forged Products, to leverage the existing forging supply chain in the United States in preparation for NuScale’s deployment of its small modular reactor technology to customers worldwide.

In addition to major reactor vessel components, NuScale has agreements with Curtiss Wright Target Rock for emergency core cooling system valves, with Curtiss Wright Enertech for containment isolation valves, with Doosan Heavy Industries for control rod drive mechanisms, and with PaR Systems for the reactor building crane. NuScale also has contracts under development for fuel racks, assembly equipment, and a distributed control system.

“NuScale is amplifying its supply chain readiness in the United States in preparation for the global deployment of its small modular reactor technology,” Bailey said. “Our ability to source our equipment with existing suppliers and with existing capacity is a competitive advantage.”