Cutting-edge US small nuclear plant enlists Japan builder JGC

TOKYO – Nikkei has learned that one of Japan’s leading industrial companies will be joining a US-led project to build a new type of nuclear power plant with added core meltdown precautions.

JGC Holdings will help build a facility in the state of Idaho designed by NuScale Power, an American company whose proposal for a small modular reactor (SMR) involves submerging the safety units in a pool of water.

Small nuclear reactors have been hailed as an option to replace fossil fuel power plants as nations pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the coming decades.

Tackling climate change will be on the agenda when President Joe Biden meets Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for a US summit later this month.

JGC has invested $ 40 million for an approximately 3% stake in NuScale, an emerging player in SMRs. The Japanese group will work with NuScale’s parent company, US-based engineering firm Fluor, on construction management and other aspects of the Idaho project.

The partners could eventually target similar projects in the Middle East – where JGC has a long track record in oil and petrochemical infrastructure – and in Southeast Asia.

It costs around $ 10 billion to build 1,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants using established reactor designs. NuScale’s SMR design, which completed a technical review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August 2020 ahead of competing proposals, is reportedly costing around $ 3 billion for more than 900 MW.

According to announced plans, the Idaho plant will have a capacity of between 600 MW and more than 700 MW.

NuScale also has a strategic partnership with Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction in South Korea who will supply components for the plant.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster a decade ago shows what happens when reactor cooling systems fail. The loss of backup power after a devastating tsunami in 2011 resulted in reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings.

NuScale’s SMR design seeks to eliminate this risk as it takes the pool water a month to evaporate and keeps the reactor temperature low.

The US government supports research and development in small reactors. A green growth strategy announced by Japan last year calls for the “active support” of Japanese companies participating in overseas experimental projects in this area.

Many existing nuclear power plants in Japan, the United States, and other advanced economies have been in operation for decades and require upgrades or shutdowns.

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