The Babcock and Wilcox Co. has already invested more than $360 million in a project that could result in a small nuclear reactor in west Oak Ridge, and now the North Carolina company is looking for investors and possibly majority owners.
The mPower small modular reactor, or SMR, program is expected to have a nuclear power plant operating at the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor Site by 2022. Initially, it could have two small reactors, a “twin pack,” and produce 360 megawatts.
On Wednesday, Marshall Cohen, B&W vice president for government affairs and communications, said the company is seeking major corporations who are interested in taking a “strong position,” up to and including ownership, including majority ownership.
“We would reduce our ownership to one that really matches the scope of work going forward,” Cohen said.
B&W’s specialty is nuclear fuel and the “nuclear island” of manufacturing, the heart of the reactor, he said. B&W would retain the rights to manufacture the reactor module and nuclear fuel.
A 15 to 20 percent ownership in the project would make sense for B&W, Cohen said.
“That’s the place that would be good for us,” he said.
In a press release, B&W President and Chief Executive Officer E. James Ferland called the search for more equity partners the next logical step in program development.
“Now is the time to bring in the right kind of investment,” Cohen said in a telephone interview. “It’s time to put this piece together.”
He said possible majority owners could be firms in the nuclear industry, industrial manufacturing, or defense. JP Morgan is serving as B&W’s financial adviser to help find investment partners. That company has been involved in 80 percent of the major nuclear deals in the past 15 years, Cohen said.
“They know what this is about,” he said. “They know how to do this.”
Cohen said B&W hopes to know more about potential investors in the first quarter of 2014.
The new investment partners would collectively own the majority equity interest in a joint development company called Generation mPower LLC, or GmP, which was formed by B&W and Bechtel in 2010, the press release said.
“mPower has evolved to the point where we need to complete the maturation of GmP,” said Christofer Mowry, Generation mPower president and chief executive officer. “Having a broader set of industrial partners and owners of GmP is important to ensure that we make a seamless transition into mPower licensing and construction—a transition that will begin over the next year as we start the formal design certification process with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
The small reactor project also involves the U.S. Department of Energy and Tennessee Valley Authority, the lead plant customer.
Federal officials agreed this summer to spend another $20.5 million on the project through what is known as the Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support Program. DOE had earlier allocated $79 million when a formal agreement with B&W mPower was signed in April, and the federal government had also given about $2 million to national laboratories to perform important analyses and evaluation work. The new spending agreed to this summer brought the total DOE investment to $101 million during the initial project period.
Cohen said B&W wants to focus on making the first few reactors operational.
“We believe it’s a game-changing technology,” he said.
Ferland said B&W and its team have elevated the mPower program to a leadership position in the development of SMRs to meet domestic and global market demand.
“mPower is uniquely positioned to shift the paradigm for new nuclear plant deployment, and we are proud that mPower is leading this exciting global business opportunity,” Ferland said.