B&W’s nuclear group in Lynchburg is designing the nation’s first small modular reactor; will power companies care?

E.C. “Butch” Minnick rolls a nuclear fuel pellet between his left thumb and forefinger. Then, in the expansive motion of a priest administering the Eucharist, he holds it aloft so onlookers can get a good view. Indeed, there is an aura of miracle to the tiny, metallic cylinder in his hand. No larger than a man’s fingertip and about one-half-inch in diameter, its unassuming size belies its potency.

 “This thing will produce as much electricity as one barrel of oil,” says Minnick. He’s the project director of a new fuel technology center in Lynchburg run by The Babcock & Wilcox Co., which is striving to develop the nation’s first utility-scale, small nuclear reactor.

Going small is the new “big idea” in nuclear energy, and the nuclear operations group in Lynchburg has enabled B&W to pull ahead in the race to market scaled-down reactors. Thus far, B&W is the only company to receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to help commercialize its reactor design. The work in Lynchburg is pivotal to bringing the product to market.

During the next five years or so, B&W Virginia employees will oversee the reactor’s design, run extensive engineering tests, develop fuel technologies and license operators to maintain its digital control systems (see sidebar on page 34). B&W, based in Charlotte, N.C., has added facilities in the Lynchburg area and is hiring new engineers and technical crew there specifically to finalize its Generation mPower system. The goal: create the prototype of a small nuclear reactor that could be mass produced, generate 180 megawatts of electricity — about 15 percent of the output of a large reactor — and run for four years before it needs refueling.

Source: Virginia Business | Garry Kranz