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Trump Administration’s Drive to Advanced Nuclear Power Reactors Continues

Oct. 19, 2020 (EIRNS)—Two interesting nuclear events occurred roughly two months ago: South Africa’s Energy Minister proclaimed that South Africa was seeking offers to add 2500 MW to its nuclear grid; and the United States’ International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) moved decisively to end the ban from the Obama Administration on financing nuclear power development projects abroad. DFC was actually a new and better capitalized successor to the old Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and was created by bipartisan legislation pushed through by the Trump White House in 2018 (that’s right, bipartisan). DFC came to be referred to as “America’s development bank” by its head, Adam Boehler. It has just taken on transport infrastructure projects in Serbia and Kosovo as part of the Trump Administration’s mediation effort between them.

These two steps toward advanced nuclear reactors are now bearing fruit. NuScale Power LLC, the only company thus far to have Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for its small modular reactor design, received a letter of intent last week from the DFC, to provide the 2500 MW for South Africa; the 2500 MW is comprised of three-plus nuclear plants of twelve 60-MW small modular reactors per plant for South Africa. Neutron Bytes which had reported Oct. 18 DFC’s letter of intent to support NuScale’s South Africa offer, had just earlier reported, that the U.S. Department of Energy committed $1.355 billion to Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to keep it on track as NuScale’s first U.S. customer for its 720-MW plant SMR. That 12 SMR plant will be built at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory for UAMPS subsidiary Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP). Electricity from the plant will be distributed to customers of 33 of UAMPS member utilities in five states.

The South African program was seeking power from independent power providers (IPPs) like NuScale, and its time scale is not yet definite. In a statement to Bloomberg News Oct. 16, NuScale said, “If successful, NuScale would be the first U.S. nuclear energy IPP on the continent and would help support energy resilience and security in one of Africa’s leading economies.” The letter of intent is not yet a funding commitment.

At the same time Power magazine reported Oct. 14 that two other American advanced nuclear design firms, TerraPower and X-energy, will each receive $80 million in initial federal funding under the DOE Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program to build their two distinct, advanced nuclear reactors and begin operating them within seven years. Bellevue, Washington-based TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates, will demonstrate the Natrium reactor, a 345-MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor that it unveiled last month as part of a consortium that includes GE Hitachi (GEH) and Bechtel. Maryland-based X-energy plans to deliver a commercial four-unit power plant based on its 80-MWe pebble-bed high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR), which can be scaled as a four-pack to 320 MWe. The DOE plans to invest $3.2 billion overall, with matching funds from industry, over the seven-year demonstration program, subject to future appropriations.

It is impossible to imagine this activity of the DOE and DFC continuing in a Biden-Harris Administration.