President Obama announced $8 billion in loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors in Georgia during a visit to the jobs training center at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 headquarters on February 16, 2010 in Lanham, Maryland.(Photo: Mark Wilson Getty Images)
To develop a new generation of nuclear power, the Obama
administration announced Tuesday that it will fund up to half the cost
of a five-year project to design and commercialize small, modular
reactors for the United States.
The Department of Energy said it
aims to have these reactors, which have attracted private funding from
investors including Bill Gates, in operation by 2022. It said it will
negotiate the project's total cost with Babcock & Wilcox, an energy
technology company based in Charlotte, that will lead the project in
partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel
"Low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role
to play in America's energy future," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in
announcing the award, citing President Obama's push for an
all-of-the-above energy strategy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
He said DOE will accept funding requests from other companies developing
Small modular reactors (SMRs) are typically
about one-third the size of current nuclear power plants. Although some
of the technology has been used in naval propulsion plants, DOE says
it's not been commercialized yet in the United States but could offer
lower upfront costs, improved safety and greater flexibility. It says
SMRs could be made in U.S. factories and moved to sites, including
remote or small areas that cannot support large reactors, where they
would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival.
are developing small reactors, each with varying features. They include
NuScale Power, Hyperion Power Generation, Toshiba, General Atomics,
General Electric and TerraPower, in which Bill Gates is an investor.
DOE co-funded project will be based in Tennessee. In a statement
welcoming the award, Babcock & Wilcox said TVA is preparing an
application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license up to four
small modular reactors at its Clinch River Site in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
reactor is designed to provide 180 megawatts of power -- compared to
about 1,000 megawatts for many large ones. Based on advanced pressurized
water reactor technology, it can be contained entirely underground.
are "very promising," says Nicolas Loris, an energy policy analyst at
the conservative Heritage Foundation. He cites their potential for lower
cost, clean energy and flexible use that could transform the nuclear
industry, prompting greater competition. Yet he says the U.S. government
should not be commercializing the technology but streamlining the
The Obama administration has also supported
large nuclear power plants. In February 2010, it announced $8.3 billion
in federal loan guarantees for two new large reactors in Burke, Ga. --
the first new nuclear power construction in the United States in more
than three decades.