NuScale’s small-modular reactor design certified by Nuclear Regulatory Commission

First SMR to be approved in the U.S. with a plant to be operational by 2029


Jason May

The Radiation Center on campus at OSU in Corvallis on Feb 9. The Radiation Center houses a Training Research Isotopes General Atomics nuclear reactor that is a smaller version of the design certified in January.

Sam Misa, News Contributor

While the Cold War may have been defined by races in both arms and space, the current race may just be in energy.

Russia and China have already taken strides into one facet of energy production with their use of small-modular — nuclear — reactor designs that are both safer and more flexible than the conventional reactor.

Now, the US is just years away from their first SMR in the form of a NuScale design approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in late January. The NRC’s certification of the design is set to become active Feb. 20— under two weeks from today. 

NuScale is an Oregon-based company founded in 2007 by a group of scientists from Oregon State University.

NuScale’s Design

According to the US Office of Energy, NuScale’s design, the VOYGR, is a power plant capable of housing up to 12 factory-built power modules. 

Each module leverages natural processes to passively cool a reactor capable of generating up to 50 mW of emissions-free energy. That’s enough energy to power 20,000 to 45,000 homes per the NRC.

NuScale is currently in the process of applying to the NRC to update their design to allow modules to produce 77 mW of energy from the 50mW baseline.

OSU graduate, Juwan Johnson, is on the young side when it comes to the NuScale workforce. According to Johnson, attending OSU for both his bachelors and masters degrees helped him to get a job at NuScale where many people have been working for 10-15 years. 

“Specifically my master’s degree (helped), the work I did with working with undergrads, as well as having my thesis in something a little bit more abstract working on liquid sodium reactors kind of  gave me the upper hand in competing in a work environment,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, who is a systems analysis engineer, the biggest problem in society when it comes to building nuclear reactors is credibility. After that, the issue becomes pricing and physical deployment of designs.

“NuScale has a unique ability in comparison to traditional reactors, because NuScale can sell individual modules, or we can sell a six pack of modules rather than traditional reactors,” Johnson said.

Something that Johnson believes sets nuclear power apart from other renewable energy is its ability to produce energy regardless of time of day or environment.

“We can still use other forms of energy,” Johnson said. “We’re just adding another tool to the toolkit with nuclear reactors that are more cost effective.” 

What sets the VOYGR apart from other nuclear reactors is its passive safety features that remove reliance on human operators to operate the reactor, according to Johnson. 

“Chernobyl, that was all human,” Johnson said. “When you disable passive safety systems,  you go around all these steps to test your facility, and you’re not having any overhead on it. That’s the human error that had attached catastrophic effects that affected the world.”

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