A budget watchdog group is criticizing a federal government program that provides federal funds to companies such as Westinghouse Electric of Cranberry Township to develop small nuclear reactors.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, says the federal government is in the process of wasting more than a half a billion dollars to pay large, profitable companies for what should be their own expenses for research and development.
The Department of Energy program is earmarked to provide about $452 million for small modular reactor (SMR) development over the next five years that are envisioned to supply electricity to individual communities.
Babcock and Wilcox, based in Charlotte, N.C., was the first company to be awarded funds.
Three applicants for future rounds include Westinghouse, Holtec International of Marlton, N.J., and the Fluor Power of Irving, Texas.
Westinghouse officials have indicated the funding would go for an SMR site planned in Missouri. There has been no indication when the next round of funding will be announced by the federal Department of Energy.
“The nation is two days away from the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. But at the same time we are hearing the Department of Energy and the nuclear industry evangelizing about the benefits of small modular reactors,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, in a statement last week.
“In reality, we cannot afford to pile more market-distorting subsidies to profitable companies on top the billions of dollars we already gave away.”
His group contends the federal government already paid for a version of SMR R&D when small reactors were designed for the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine fleet. It contends some highly profitable companies, such as those in this story, have a hand out for another round of federal support for small modular reactors while that money could go into suburban neighborhoods.
In an e-mail, Kate Jackson, chief technology officer and senior vice president of research and technology at Westinghouse, said:
“Westinghouse has a track record of delivering on public/private partnership programs to deploy new technologies.
“The Department of Energy's New Plant 2010 program to support large light-water reactors through the new NRC combined license process is arguably the best investment that the DOE has ever made to provide a return on jobs and economic development to the U.S. taxpayer.
“Westinghouse is right now building the first new nuclear energy plants in over a generation. This effort has positively affected at least 35,000 jobs and is exporting reactors overseas in addition to construction of four new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina. Additionally, nearly $8 billion of equipment and services has already been procured from U.S. companies for these new plants.
“Westinghouse's plan to be first-to-the-market with a commercial SMR plant is central to our business strategy to provide emissions-free, economic energy options in 225MW increments and in doing so, create tens of thousands of jobs for Americans and the economic impacts of a robust global export industry.”
Two weeks ago, Westinghouse announced it has already taken its next step in the production of fuel for its SMRs.
The Westinghouse engineering design team in the fuel fabrication facility in Columbia, S.C., has started building a Westinghouse SMR prototype fuel assemblies for testing.
The Westinghouse SMR fuel design began in 2011 and is based on the technology used in the fuel for the four Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear power plant units under construction in China as well as the four AP 1000 units being built in Georgia and South Carolina.