Bechtel to Back Small Nuclear Plants

Engineering and construction giant Bechtel Corp. is expected to disclose that it will partner with nuclear vendor Babcock & Wilcox Co. on mPower reactor.

BachtelEngineering and construction giant Bechtel Corp. is expected to disclose Wednesday that it will partner with nuclear vendor Babcock & Wilcox Co. to bring a small, commercial reactor design to market.

Closely held Bechtel declined to reveal its investment in the venture other than to say it is “substantial” and affirms its optimism about prospects for new plant designs that could make nuclear power affordable to smaller utilities and get new plants into operation faster.

BWUnder the partnership, Bechtel will help Babcock complete the design of a modular reactor, called mPower, and seek necessary approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to begin sales in the U.S.

Bechtel, of San Francisco, will have exclusive responsibility for engineering, procuring key components and building the plants. The companies have not yet said what the likely cost of plants using the modular design would be.

After a few units are built, the partners hope to offer standard versions for a fixed price, something that has eluded nuclear vendors in the past. Unpredictable costs plagued the nuclear power industry in the past and stalled new U.S. nuclear-plant construction after the 1980s.

Although the average size of reactors globally has gradually gotten bigger, some observers think there’s room for smaller reactors. Babcock’s reactor can be built in factories, shipped by rail, barge or truck to sites, and then assembled in cookie-cutter fashion. The small size allows faster construction, with less money tied up in equipment before power sales begin.

Babcock, of Lynchburg, Va., now makes small reactors for the Navy, as well as nuclear fuel and plant components. It has designed big reactors in the past but wanted something it could build in its existing, domestic factories.

Its partner, Bechtel, is one of the most experienced nuclear construction and engineering firms in the world. It has a contract to build a large reactor in Maryland, and has built or done major modifications to 64 of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Bechtel Corporation | Babcock & Wilcox Company