The possibility of using small, modular nuclear reactors has FirstEnergy reconsidering its future in nuclear power, reports the Toledo Blade
. In the mid 1980s, FirstEnergy spent $6 billion building the Perry Nuclear Power plant on Lake Erie, the paper reports, but the price tag kept the company from expanding.
However, the smaller reactors, which are only about the length of a bowling lane and cost as little as $500 million each, are making the Akron-based utility rethink its future in nuclear power.
Pete Sena, president of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., the utility's nuclear subsidiary, said while FirstEnergy can’t afford full-scale nuclear reactors, smaller reactors are manageable investments.
FirstEnergy is among 15 utilities who last year joined nuclear engineering and design firm Babcock & Wilcox Co. to form the mPower Industry Consortium. The group provides oversight and pre-licensing funding to develop a 125-megawatt "mPower" reactor — a small, modular light water reactor that is 83 feet high, weighs about 700 tons, and can power about 125,000 homes.
In comparison, the Davis Besse nuclear reactor, commissioned in 1978 near Toledo, generates about 940 megawatts.
The smaller reactors are more cost-effective for companies that must fund the cost of building their own plants, said Chris Mowry, president of Babcock & Wilcox's Modular Nuclear Energy subsidiary.
Since Ohio deregulated electric utilities in 2000, electric rates are determined through competitive bidding, and utility companies such as FirstEnergy can’t build new plants and have the cost passed on to customers.
The answer, Mowry said, is to get the total cost under $2 billion, or about the price tag of a new coal-fired or combined-cycle natural-gas fired plant.
With small, modular reactors, that $2 billion or less price is achievable, because for that amount, a utility should be able to buy two modular reactors with a total output near 360 megawatts, Mowry said.
The small modular reactors are still under development, and won’t be approved for use in the United States before 2020.
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