By Christine Todd Whitman
Columbia Daily Tribune
July 29, 2012

Much at stake for state, nation in small reactors.

ur nation is on the cusp of a nuclear energy revolution driven by technology innovators and university researchers alike. New small module reactor designs, (SMRs) — built in modules with the capability of producing power anywhere in the world — have the power to change the way we use nuclear energy. For the revolution to advance, a new generation of energy pioneers must lead the charge. Thanks in part to the support of strong leaders who are committed to expanding nuclear energy, Missouri might be that pioneer.

Missouri is competing for a $452 million grant from the Department of Energy to build the first SMRs. If successful, Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric could build as many as five micro-reactors in the state.

Building the first SMR represents more than just a milestone in nuclear technology advancement. It represents a significant economic opportunity for Missouri and for the nation.

NexStart SMR Alliance held an economic summit Monday in Columbia that focused on the potential economic outcomes should the grant to build SMRs be awarded to Missouri. The summit recognized the value of innovative nuclear energy production in creating jobs and, more broadly, for economic growth across the state in a broad range of manufacturing and service industries.

SMRs are smaller-scale reactors that have a minimal footprint and smaller electric generating capacity than their larger counterparts. Typical small designs are 300 megawatts or less, compared to the 1,000-megawatt output of the typical large reactor. Because they’re more compact, they can be added to the power grid incrementally as electricity demand rises or used for myriad other uses, such as water desalination, hydrogen production or to generate processed heat for manufacturing facilities.

SMRs are also quicker and more cost-efficient to build. They’re small enough to manufacture and even pre-assemble in a factory setting. By shaving years of construction and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost off the investment in nuclear energy, SMRs put nuclear power within easier reach of smaller American energy companies and emerging economies.

SMRs can help states more easily increase their use of reliable energy options that do not produce greenhouse gases or air pollution, reducing their carbon footprint and improving air quality. In Missouri, which uses nuclear energy to meet 10 percent of its electricity needs, increasing the use of carbon-free energy would result in cleaner air.

Building modular reactors in Missouri will create well-paying jobs for hardworking Missourians in a wide range of disciplines. Jobs in the nuclear energy industry also mean new training and education opportunities in a range of sectors, from design and construction to operations and support of the facilities. Missouri’s education system is well prepared to meet this need.

What’s more, if Missouri builds the first SMRs, other states interested in SMR development — such as South Carolina and Washington — might follow suit. Not only might they look to Missouri as a model for how to build their own, but the state could play a leading role in manufacturing to support construction and maintenance of these new designs. As a pioneer in building SMRs and with an ongoing commitment to nuclear energy, Missouri could become the SMR hub of the nation. As an added benefit, building factories in Missouri or other states to produce and distribute SMRs means that the nuclear energy industry is creating new manufacturing jobs right here in the United States, where they’re badly needed.

As well-established and reliable large reactors continue to produce one-fifth of America’s electricity, the development of innovative small reactor designs could lead the industry into an era of significant change and opportunity. They also will drive economic growth in the communities and states that build them. Every Missourian should be eager to see what the future holds for nuclear energy, and for the state, as the outcome of this grant award is decided.

Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator and New Jersey governor, is the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, an organization funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute that promotes the inclusion and expansion of nuclear energy as part of a sustainable, clean energy portfolio.