At NuScale, an opportunity lost, another on the horizon

NuScale's modular nuclear reactor design is still years from being approved. The company hit a funding setback this week.

NuScale's modular nuclear reactor design is still years from being approved. The company hit a funding setback this week. 

Nobody said it would be easy to build a next-generation nuclear reactor.

Corvallis' NuScale Power found that out again this week when the company learned that it had been passed over for a U.S. Department of Energy grant program. It now awaits word from the DOE of further funding opportunities.

The grant would have helped defray some of the estimated $50 million in costs NuScale expects to endure on the way toward getting federal design certification of its modular nuclear reactor.

The DOE announced in March that it would provide up to $452 million in funding split between two or more recipients as part of a cost-sharing program to help accelerate commercialization of small-scale nuclear energy technology.

But on Tuesday, the DOE issued an award to only one project led by Charlotte, N.C.-based Babcock & Wilcox Co. in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel.

The news dealt another blow to NuScale, which entered 2012 with optimism following a year in which much of its financial assets were frozen after its primary investor pleaded guilty last year to running a Ponzi scheme.

Texas-based engineering giant Fluor Corp. (NYSE: FLR) invested $30 million in NuScale to take a majority stake in the company, giving it a further jolt.

The DOE award is a disappointment to both NuScale and its primary investor. Babcock is NuScale's biggest rival, and similarly has the backing of its own engineering powerhouse, Bechtel, a rival to Fluor.

The federal funding announced Tuesday — the amount of which hasn't been determined — could give Babcock and its nuclear reactor design, which produces four-times the output of NuScale's model, an edge toward being the first to commercialization.

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