25 SMR license applications expected by 2029, plus six other takeaways from FERC, NRC joint meeting

“Even though a lot of politicians in California wanted to close [Diablo Canyon], they faced the reality that they could not close it and keep their lights on,” FERC’s Christie said.

Two tall white industrial structures stand among an array of buildings.

Vogtle nuclear Unit 4 with Unit 3 in the background. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a joint meeting on Jan. 25, 2024, in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Georgia Power

Grid reliability and small modular reactors were key topics at a biennial meeting between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday.

Here are seven takeaways from the meeting.

Many SMRs in the pipeline. The NRC expects it will receive 25 licensing applications in the next five years for small modular reactors and advanced reactors, according to Andrea Kock, deputy office director for engineering, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. The planned SMR units will likely be up to about 200 MW in size, she said.

More utilities look to extend the life of existing nuclear plants. The NRC is reviewing applications for license extensions for 16 nuclear reactors “with more to come,” said John Wise, senior technical advisor for license renewal aging management in the NRC’s Division of New and Renewed Licenses. The United States has 93 licensed nuclear reactors.

Nuclear is a critical tool for reliability and decarbonization. FERC Commissioner Mark Christie touted the benefits of nuclear power. “Number one, it’s carbon free and that’s great. Number two, it runs all the time,” he said. “So basically, any future where you want to have reliable power and reduce carbon emissions it’s got to include nuclear.”

Christie commented on Pacific Gas & Electric’s 2,250-MW Diablo Canyon power plant in California, which had been slated for retirement but is in the process of having its life extended.

“Even though a lot of politicians in California wanted to close it, they faced the reality that they could not close it and keep their lights on,” Christie said. “So one lesson there was ultimately reality wins.”

NERC sees risks in the nation’s changing resource mix. The North American Electric Reliability Corp.’s just-issued long-term reliability assessment anticipates 83 GW of fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants will retire by the end of 2033, according to a presentation given at Thursday’s meeting by NERC Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer Mark Lauby. In the same period, NERC expects 62 GW of solar, 29 GW of gas, 21 GW of batteries and 5 GW of wind to come online, for a gain of 34 GW of nameplate capacity.

But those risks can be managed. The shift to inverter-based resources creates risks, but they can be managed, according to Lauby. “We see more resources, especially around solar and battery support, and those are certainly good resources to have, but they create more uncertainty.”

The uncertainty can be dealt with in a number of ways, including by having enough transmission to move power to where it is needed and having energy storage, Lauby said.

Reflecting those energy supply risks, one day in September, Germany’s 60 GW wind fleet produced only 2 GW, according to Lauby. “So we gotta make sure for those days that we have a place to go to back those systems up,” he said.

Load-following nuclear offers flexibility. Some nuclear power plants are able to follow changing load patterns, according to NRC Chairman Christopher Hanson. “That flexibility is going to be really important,” Lauby said.

Critical black start units are vulnerable to cold weather outages. During Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022, 155 designated black start units — generating units that can be used to restart the grid system after a wide-spread power outage — were hit with outages themselves, according to Heather Polzin, reliability enforcement counsel and attorney advisor in FERC’s Office of Enforcement. They totaled 19,000 MW, she said.

“It cannot be overstated the importance of black start resources,” FERC Acting Chairman Willie Phillips said.

By Ethan Howland
Source: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/ferc-nerc-joint-meeting-smr-nuclear-black-start/705708/