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GE Hitachi Tapped By Dept. Of Energy To Lead Nuclear Tech Project

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 17, 2018
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to lead a team of industry experts for an advanced nuclear technology development project, which is receiving $1.9 million in federal funds, according to a news release.

GE Hitachi is leading the project out of its headquarters in Wilmington, said Jon Allen, spokesman for GE Hitachi, a joint venture between General Electric and Hitachi that provides advanced nuclear technology and services.

The project will bring together a team to examine ways to simplify the reactor design, reduce plant construction costs and lower operations and maintenance costs for GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300, a 300 MWe (megawatts electric) small modular reactor (SMR), officials said in the release.

The team consists of industry experts from Pennsylvania-based Exelon Generation, Japan-based Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. (HGNE), Bechtel Corp., with corporate headquarters in Virginia, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Our industry partners will perform much of their work outside of Wilmington,” Allen said of the outside companies' work on the project. "We envision periodic team meetings and technology reviews where experts from the separate companies will come together to collaborate."

In addition, Allen said that the company’s alliance partner, HGNE, will dispatch engineers from Japan to Wilmington to work side by side with its local experts. Many of GE Hitachi’s most experienced engineering and project management experts have been assigned to work on the project, he said.

“We are excited to announce our continued industry collaboration to develop the BWRX-300, a potentially game changing technology,” Jon Ball, executive vice president of Nuclear Plant Projects for GE Hitachi, said in the release. “We have assembled a strong team of experts in nuclear plant design, construction methods and plant operations, with the goal of developing a clean energy solution that is cost-competitive with combined cycle gas generation and renewables.”

The project has received more than $1.9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), part of its nearly $20 million in funding for cost-shared research and development for advanced nuclear technology. 
 
This project is one of nine domestic projects to receive the DOE investment. The awards are through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s funding opportunity announcement (FOA), U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development.

The BWRX-300 project has received more than $481,000 in non-departmental funding for a total of more than $2.4 million, according to DOE.

GE Hitachi announced in May that Virginia-based Dominion Energy was investing in its BWRX-300 design. The amount of the investment by Dominion Energy, however, was not disclosed.

The funding from DOE is for approximately 12 months, Allen said.

“Our main focus this year is working on the primary aspects of the design that enable the dramatic simplification of the plant. As we continue to evolve the design and minimize risk, we anticipate even greater interest from the industry and the potential acceleration of development,” Allen said about the BWRX-300 project.

"Once we have proven our preliminary design features, it will take several more years to complete the detailed design and license the technology," he added.

HGNE is contributing to the project by bringing its advanced manufacturing and construction expertise, as well as its recently enhanced engineering capabilities developed for its UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) project, a nuclear reactor design proposed for development and construction in the United Kingdom, said Masahito Yoshimura, senior vice president of Global Business Development and Management Division for HGNE, in the release. 

"It’s an imperative of the nuclear industry to reduce the cost of deploying new plants,” said Jacopo Buongiorno, TEPCO professor and associate department head, Nuclear Science and Engineering, at MIT. 
 
“In this project Professor Franz-Josef Ulm from MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and I will work with GE Hitachi to design a new small modular nuclear reactor that adopts advanced concrete solutions and innovative construction techniques, which are expected to drastically cut its cost and schedule, and make it competitive with natural gas combined cycle power plants," Buongiorno added.

These technologies are anticipated to be incorporated into the BWRX-300, which leverages the design and licensing basis of the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Through design simplification, GE Hitachi officials said they estimate the BWRX-300 will require up to 60 percent less capital cost per megawatt when compared to other water-cooled SMRs or existing large nuclear designs.

"If these savings can be achieved, the BWRX-300 can become cost-competitive with power generation from combined cycle gas and renewables," officials said in the release.
 
Through the development phase of the BWRX-300, Allen said GE Hitachi will finalize conceptual and detailed design, and initiate licensing in one or more countries.

"This could then progress into potentially winning multiple construction contracts," Allen said. "We estimate that following these steps, the first BWRX-300 can be operational within 10 years."
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