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US DOE launches major funding program for small nuclear reactors via Platts

Washington (Platts)–20Jan2012/426 pm EST/2126 GMT

Pittsburgh-based engineering company Westinghouse Friday said it will apply for government funding to advance nuclear technology that would produce a new type of small reactors.

The US Department of Energy announced earlier Friday that it is seeking applications for two grants, estimated to total $452 million over five years. The funds will pay up to half the cost of developing and deploying up to two small modular reactor designs.

The DOE’s announcement launches an Obama administration initiative to position the US to lead the world in SMR technology, which the president and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have said will boost exports and create domestic manufacturing jobs. But the program has been delayed for more than a year by congressional standoffs on how to fund the federal government. The DOE’s SMR program received $67 million for fiscal 2012, which ends September 30. Funding levels in future years will depend on congressional appropriations.

The department defines SMRs as reactors of 300 MW or below. “The government is particularly interested in SMR designs that incorporate passive safety features,” which rely on physics — such as gravity — instead of mechanical means or human interference to keep the reactor safe, DOE said Thursday in a draft funding opportunity notice Thursday.

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