(Updates with comments from conference, background, changes dateline from NEW YORK)
WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - McDermott International Inc’s (MDR.N) Babcock & Wilcox Co (B&W) subsidiary on Wednesday unveiled a small 125-megawatt North American-manufactured nuclear power reactor.
The small size of B&W’s mPower reactor design makes it cheaper and more flexible than the big reactors of over 1,000 MW that utilities are currently looking to build.
The reactors are scalable and can be constructed in multiples over time to help utilities diversify their fuel mix, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and meet growing demand. Each reactor could power more than 100,000 homes.
The first mPower reactors could enter service as soon as 2018, B&W CEO Brandon Bethards said at a conference in Washington.
B&W expects to submit the design for certification by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011. The company also hopes to find a customer in 2011 who could file a construction and operating license with the NRC in 2012 with approval and construction starting in 2015.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has already signed a Letter of Intent to begin the process of evaluating a potential lead plant site for the B&W reactor.
TVA said it was evaluating the environmental suitability of several sites and may choose a site that was previously considered for a power plant.
B&W also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TVA and a consortium of regional municipal and cooperative utilities to explore the construction of a fleet of mPower reactors to meet the consortium’s need to diversify its generation assets.
B&W did not disclose the cost of its reactor but noted it would likely be less than some industry estimates.
Using an industry estimate of $3,300 per kilowatt, each B&W mPower reactor would cost more than $400 million. That compares with about $2,100 per kW for a new coal plant, $1,000 per kW for combined cycle natural gas, $1,900 per kW for wind and $6,000 per kW for solar photovoltaic.
The recession and tight credit markets have pared some predictions for a nuclear “renaissance” given that a big reactor capable of generating from 1,100 to 1,600 MW of power would cost an estimated $5 billion to $12 billion, which is more than the market value of some of the utilities considering building the big reactors.
Other companies are also looking to build small light water reactors, including Toshiba Corp (6502.T)/Shaw Group Inc’s SGR.N Westinghouse Electric Co, NuScale Power Inc, Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Ltd (PBMR), Toshiba Corp (6502.T), Hyperion Power Generation Inc and General Electric Co (GE.N)/Hitachi Ltd (6501.T) GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, according to the NRC.
The mPower system would provide a passively safe Advanced Light Water Reactor (ALWR) design with a below-ground containment structure and store all of the fuel “burned” during its 60-year life in an underground spent fuel pool..
B&W formed a new unit, B&W Modular Nuclear Energy LLC, headed by Christofer Mowry that will lead the development, licensing and delivery of mPower reactor projects.
B&W plans to build the nuclear steam supply system at existing facilities in North America and rail-ship them to construction sites. The company mentioned facilities in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and a subsidiary in Canada.
To keep operating costs low, B&W expects the new reactors to be able to operate for five years without refueling. That compares to the 18- to 24-month refueling cycles for the 104 reactors currently operating in the United States. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino, Eileen O‘Grady and Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy)