Missouri Companies Can Participate in Nuclear Resurgence

April 14, 2016

by Rick Prugh, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

Duck and cover!  For school students in the 1950’s and 1960’s, random civil defense drills were conducted where everyone was instructed to jump under their desks and cover their heads in the event of a nuclear bomb attack.  Those drills helped terrify an entire generation of Americans regarding nuclear power, who handed that fear down to their kids, and so on. 

Ironically, it was during those same decades that scientists harnessed and perfected the peaceful use of nuclear energy to produce electricity.  It’s that peaceful use that is generating a renewed market opportunity for manufacturers, and Missouri Enterprise is helping companies in our state capture their share.

In spite of the fact that there have only been three major accidents involving commercial nuclear power plants since the first one was built 55 years ago, many Americans are still wary of this dependable and efficient source of power.  These three accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima) directly caused only about 60 officially-confirmed deaths as a result of radiation exposure and explosion. 

However, the world’s increasing demand for electricity balanced with the need to produce it without carbon emissions has sparked a global resurgence in investment in nuclear power plants (NPP).  In turn, that is opening and enriching opportunities for manufacturers to get involved in the supply chains to build new NPPs and maintain those currently operating.  

Missouri Enterprise is helping Missouri manufacturers connect to this expanding market at no cost to these companies.  Through its federally-funded “Make It in America” program, Missouri Enterprise is performing the following tasks.  

  • Identify needed primary supply components and subcomponents.
  • Scout the state to discover manufacturers interested in pursuing this market.
  • Match interested manufacturers to NPP supply chain opportunities.
  • Determine necessary supplier qualifications.
  • Help manufacturers fill gaps in meeting criteria by matching them with technical resources who can provide training or consultation.

Excellent Market Outlook

Nuclear reactors produce base-load electricity in a manner that is affordable, secure, reliable, and virtually carbon-free while maintaining location flexibility.  It is the only source of electricity that can check all those boxes.  Solar and wind energy are so intermittent that they can only supplement base-load electricity generation.

Nuclear plants generate 19% of the electricity in the U.S., which accounts for 63% of our carbon-free electricity generation.  Only about 12% of the world’s electricity is now generated by nuclear power plants, but that appears to be changing between now and 2030.

There are currently 438 NPPs in the world with 70 more under construction, 170 on order or planned, and just over 300 proposed to be built by the year 2030.  The U.S. is the leader with 100 commercial reactors and four others under construction, which represent the first commercial nuclear reactor construction starts in this country in over 30 years.  

All new-build construction investment is expected to total $1.5 trillion by 2030, with about $500 billion of that in parts and services.  Each new nuclear plant requires about 400,000 cubic yards of concrete, 66,000 tons of steel, 500 to 3,000 valves, 125 to 2500 pumps, 44 miles of piping, 300 miles of electric wiring, and 100,000 electrical components.  

Shopping lists, also, include tubing, insulation, reactor pressure vessels, pressurizers, heat exchangers, moisture separators, and hundreds of other components and subcomponents. 

Companies operating America’s 100 existing nuclear reactors buy over $14 billion each year in materials, fuel, and services from 22,500 domestic suppliers.  They spend an average of over $270 million in each state every year.

The Next Big Thing

Because these large nuclear reactors each cost about $6-8 billion to build, a new design involving Small Modular Reactors (SMR) appears to offer the best product for new nuclear reactors in the U.S.  These reactors produce less than 300 megawatts (MWe) with major modules designed to be fabricated in factories and shipped complete to sites for installation.  Large nuclear reactors must be assembled at the plant site.

SMR costs are expected to be much lower than large reactors.  These lower costs are the result of mass production techniques, drastically reduced construction times, less financing costs, and new safety technologies that require far fewer parts.  Less cost means less financial risk to utility companies.  Because these modules can be interconnected, a company can ramp up electricity generation capacity as demand grows rather than building for demand estimated far into the future.

Due to their smaller size, SMRs can use passive safety features that do not require power or human intervention to function properly in case of an emergency shutdown or natural disaster.  Using natural forces of gravity, convection, and passive heat removal, SMRs can be cooled for an extended number of days, or even indefinitely, with no access to electric power.  These smaller reactors are also designed to be located underground, with the reactor core and crucial reactor components all enclosed in one pressure vessel.

While the supply chains for the current generation of large nuclear reactors are well-developed and more competitive, SMR technology represents a new market where potential suppliers can still enter on the ground floor.  Now is the time for Missouri manufacturers to capitalize on this opportunity.

Great economic impact awaits any state that becomes a hub for manufacturing SMRs.  Missouri Enterprise (the state’s NIST MEP center) is working to make that happen.  In partnership with the University of Missouri and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, the organization’s goal is to develop the supply chain and workforce infrastructure to support the manufacture and operation of nuclear power plants, with focus on SMRs.  Funding to launch the effort was provided through the federal Make it in America (MIIA) Challenge program.

According to a study completed by the SMR Research and Education Consortium, the manufacturing, construction, and operation associated with a single 225 MWe SMR in Missouri would result in $892 million in direct local income from 14,000 new fulltime jobs.  It would contribute $2.4 billion to the economies of Missouri and neighboring states.  (See SMRREC illustration.)  Over 20 years, this economic impact could total anywhere from $34 billion to $265 billion.

Make It in America Program Activity 

Our MIIA program has developed a relationship with NuScale Power, which is currently leading the race among four American companies to develop their SMR technology.  MIIA program managers accompanied four Missouri companies to NuScale’s exposition in August, where they received a briefing on the status of NuScale’s commercialization effort and how Missouri manufacturers could participate in their supply chain. 

NuScale Plans to submit its Design Certification Application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission late in 2016.  They will begin to recruit the majority of their suppliers in 2017 and sign those partners in 2018.  NuScale plans to deliver its first completed SMR module in 2023.

In the meantime, Missouri Enterprise and other MIIA representatives will be visiting Missouri manufacturers who are most likely to be able to supply NuScale, as well as large reactor companies.  This insures that the MIIA program is pursuing current and future nuclear power plant supply chain opportunities.

The MIIA program has developed component lists from information provided by a major nuclear reactor designer and contractor, and Missouri Enterprise is now matching those components with manufacturers in the state who could possibly produce them.  Once that is completed, these manufacturers will be contacted to see what can be done to help them capture their piece of the nuclear power plant pie.

Any Missouri businesses who would like additional information on participating in the MIIA program should immediately contact MIIA Program Manager, Rick Prugh at 573-308-7581, or by email at rprugh@missourienterprise.org.  He will arrange a visit to your plant to discuss the program, tour the plant, and determine a plan of action.  Who wants their share of the nuclear market?