Ameren still waiting on federal funds decision for reactor production

Thursday, October 4, 2012 | 5:58 p.m. CDT; updated 7:57 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 4, 2012

The waiting game continues for a project that supporters see as a way for Missouri to take a leading role in the manufacture of a new generation of nuclear reactors.

A partnership between Ameren Missouri, which operates a nuclear power plant in Callaway County, and Westinghouse Corp. is one of several applicants across the country bidding for all or part of $452 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ameren would use the money to build up to five small modular reactors at the site of its existing nuclear plant in Callaway County.

Warren Wood, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs for Ameren, said it's possible a decision won't be made until after the Nov. 6 presidential election.

The U.S. Department of Energy would not provide an estimated date of when applicants will learn who wins the money except to say in an email Tuesday that the process was ongoing.

"It became apparent that politics could come into play," Dan Atwill, Boone County Presiding Commissioner, said during a banquet lunch sponsored by the Central Missouri Development Council. The lunch provided an opportunity for community leaders to discuss the economic benefits of the project.

"There are companies that stand to benefit in the construction process, some of which are in Ohio," Atwill said, referring to Ohio's role in the presidential race.

There are a total of four applicants across the country vying for the Department of Energy funding for the modular reactors: Ameren and Westinghouse, NuScale in Oregon, Holtec International in New Jersey, and Babcock & Wilcox in North Carolina.

Rob Duncan, MU vice chancellor for research, said he believes the partnership between Ameren and Westinghouse is so "mature" and "compelling" that the two companies will go ahead with their modular reactor plans regardless.

The advantage to using federal funds is a Department of Energy requirement that all of the manufacturing for the modular reactors be done in the U.S., Duncan said.

Ameren hasn't decided how to proceed if the federal funds aren't provided, Wood said. "We'd have to sit back and take a look at our options at that point."

Supporters highlight economic benefits

Wood said the state would be a "first-mover" in the new modular reactor technology that could generate billions of dollars in international exports.

Duncan said if Missouri were to be the state that manufactures the modular reactor technology, the revenue equivalent would total about $25 billion — three to four times what Missouri makes from its agriculture products, he said.

According to a June 2010 report by Boise State University's Energy Policy Institute, a 100 megawatt modular reactor that costs $500 million to manufacture and install on‐site is estimated to create nearly  7,000  jobs. It would generate  $1.3  billion  in  sales, $404  million in payroll and $35 million in indirect business taxes.

The Westinghouse modular reactors would generate 225 megawatts of electricity, according to an Ameren news release from earlier this year.

Wood said it's likely that the parts required to build the modular nuclear reactors would not come from a single manufacturing plant in Missouri but rather from multiple plants.

Some of the parts needed to build the small modular nuclear reactors include steel, parts that go into power plants, bolts, angles, screws, controls, instruments for measuring pressure, circuits, touchscreens for control rooms, pumps, valves, pipes, concrete and high-tech equipment such as pressure vessels and tanks, Wood said.

"Our trick is to see how much of that work we can get in Missouri," Wood said.

"It's too premature for companies to make major commitments at this stage not knowing how the announcement's going to be structured," said Todd Culley, CEO and general manager for Boone Electric Cooperative.

Culley said he thinks the Department of Energy will have a say about where materials to build the modular reactors would be manufactured. "Quite honestly, a project that is this large, it would not be unreasonable to think that several states are involved," he said.

Any modular reactor project faces a host of steps that will take years to complete, including applying for design certification and an operating license, Wood said.

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