COLUMBIA — This week, the University of Missouri System declared its intention to work with the energy industry to promote small-scale nuclear power plants.
On Monday, the UM System announced a partnership among Ameren Missouri, Westinghouse Electric Co. and two UM campuses to conduct research related to small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs.
In the announcement, system President Tim Wolfe said the partnership would support a small modular reactor "renaissance for the nuclear industry."
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, small modular reactors are miniature nuclear power plants with the capacity to generate 300 megawatts or less of electricity. They can be mass-produced in a factory and shipped by truck or rail.
Joseph Smith, director of the Energy Research and Development Center at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, said these reactors can be strategically placed to augment conventional and renewable energy sources to help meet demand.
"You could think about that just like you think about a hybrid automobile," Smith wrote in an email. "SMRs could become part of a hybrid energy system that combines legacy fossil energy (i.e., coal gasification) with renewable energy (i.e., wind or solar)."
Smith said the consortium had its kickoff meeting Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Representatives from Ameren, Westinghouse, MU and Missouri S&T were among those present, he said.
Ameren and Westinghouse each put forth a $60,000 annual membership fee. Smith said Westinghouse is an ideal consortium partner because of its AP1000 reactor technology that has already received Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval.
"That’s the gold standard," Smith said of the AP1000 reactor.
Westinghouse and Ameren are already partners in the nuclear industry. The nuclear reactor at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant is a Westinghouse reactor.
In April, Westinghouse and Ameren declared they would continue to pursue $226 million in Department of Energy funding for small modular reactors. The companies had applied for an earlier round of funding worth more than $450 million but lost in November to a team comprising Babcock & Wilcox Co., the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel Corp.
Missouri Technology Corp., a nonprofit entity established by the Missouri General Assembly to promote science and technology development, also will put forth $250,000 in funding over three years.
The Missouri Technology Corp.’s board of directors approved the grant at its June 28 board meeting, said Amy Susan, director of marketing and communications for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
One of the consortium’s goals is to increase membership to five in three years and 10 in five years, Smith said. He said the consortium has the potential to attract members from a variety of industrial sectors, including manufacturing, reactor vendors and transportation. Other universities can also join the consortium.
"The opportunity to leverage its investment is a key benefit for consortium members," Smith said. "A bigger and more significant issue is consortium members can join the team of industries involved in the SMR supply chain."
Smith developed a PowerPoint presentation about the consortium based on a funding proposal to the Missouri Technology Corp. In it, he listed seven areas of focus for consortium research:
- Design and modeling
- Nuclear fuel
- Education and outreach
Smith emphasized the economic benefits for Missouri if this consortium helps lead to more widespread adoption of small nuclear reactors. He said it could lead to jobs in manufacturing, operation and transportation, to name a few.
The nuclear industry already holds plenty of job opportunities for students who receive proper training, he said.
Missouri S&T and MU each operate research reactors and offer nuclear science and engineering programs. Several undergraduate senior capstone teams at Missouri S&T have produced projects relating to small modular reactors, Smith said.
"I think it’s a great opportunity for the companies but more importantly for the students," Smith said. "Workforce training is a big deal for this consortium."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.