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Small Modular Reactors Get New Industry, Government Buy-In

Small Modular Reactors Get New Industry, Government Buy-In

Nuclear fission truly is a bit of unicorn in the world’s panoply of energy sources.

Not only is it extremely efficient at reliably producing electricity—generating zero carbon emissions while doing so—it can also be used to co-produce heat and steam. That makes it an appealing option for hard to decarbonize businesses in the industrial sector, for which heat is a vital input for manufacturing processes.

And just this week a major manufacturing giant became the first to formally announce its plans to incorporate advanced nuclear technology in its facilities over the next decade.

Per the Washington Examiner:

DOW SIGNS UP FOR X-ENERGY’S ADVANCED REACTOR TECHNOLOGY: X-energy entered into a preliminary agreement with Dow to provide one of the chemical and materials giant’s Gulf Coast manufacturing facilities with heat and power via its advanced nuclear reactor technology.

 

The Maryland-based reactor designer announced the letter of intent yesterday, which provides that X-energy will deploy its 80-megawatt high-temperature gas reactor technology at the facility to supply power and steam for industrial applications.

 

The helium coolant X-energy’s reactor uses comes out at 750 degrees Celsius, which is then turned around and used to flash boil steam in a steam generator to 565 degrees, explained Ben Reinke, a senior director for corporate strategy at X-energy.

The company’s letter of intent is a massive vote of confidence in the prospects of advanced nuclear energy becoming a serious component of future decarbonization efforts. Dow also announced it would be taking a minority stake in X-energy in order to continue working with the company to complete its advanced reactors.

Dow chairman and CEO Jim Fitterling expressed his optimism over the prospects of SMRs in a press release announcing the move:

“Advanced small modular nuclear technology is going to be a critical tool for Dow’s path to zero-carbon emissions and our ability to drive growth by delivering low-carbon products to our customers. X-energy’s technology is among the most advanced, and when deployed will deliver safe, reliable, low-carbon power and steam. This is a great opportunity for Dow to lead our industry in carbon neutral manufacturing by deploying next-generation nuclear energy.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, industry accounts for the highest share of end-use energy consumption of any sector in the country, at roughly 33% of all energy consumed. It’s also responsible for roughly 24% of the country’s GHG emissions, the third-highest emitting sector behind electricity generation and transportation.

In Colorado, industry is the leading sector of end-use energy consumption and is responsible for roughly 15% of the state’s CO2 emissions.

A successful showing of the industrial applications of SMRs by X-energy and Dow would be a massive victory for sensible decarbonization going forward. It could pave the way for other major manufacturers to follow suit and allow the technology to gain a serious foothold in the country’s energy mix.

An X-energy demonstration reactor under construction in Washington state is expected to be complete by 2028, and the company expects its reactors to be commercially deployable in 2030.


But it’s not only the private sector that continues to buy-in to the promise of SMRs and other advanced nuclear technology. The federal government is continuing to show its support too, to include new supportive provisions contained within the recently passed CHIPS bill.

Per the Examiner:

CHIPS BILL PASSES WITH FUNDING TO TEST COAL-TO-NUCLEAR CONVERSIONS: The CHIPS bill that became law yesterday funds a number of new energy programs, including one to research and demonstrate the construction of advanced nuclear reactors at industrial sites such as those home to coal-fired power plants.

 

The program’s $800 million in funding would be used to “prioritize communities that have retiring coal or other fossil generating facilities and assist in the reutilization of sites to deploy advanced nuclear power plants,” according to a summary from Sen. Joe Manchin’s office.

I’ve written at length before about the promise SMRs show for ensuring a “just transition” in coal communities dealing with plant closures, workforce displacement, and the need to replace a source of baseload power. Here in Colorado, local leaders in Pueblo, Garfield, and Moffat Counties have expressed interest in pursuing SMRs for just this very purpose.

It’s good to see the federal government supporting that push as well. Hopefully the Colorado General Assembly is paying attention to the momentum.