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September 09, 2021

The review of small modular reactors (SMRs) for the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico moves to step two. Having concluded that such a deployment was feasible, the Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP) is now examining the location requirements. Speaking at the World Nuclear Association’s annual symposium yesterday, Eddie Guerra of NAP said the results of an ongoing study “will help advance the discussion of how sites will adapt and how they will adapt. ‘align with the mini-grids already planned’.

Potential sites in Puerto Rico, identified by the Nuclear Alternative Project (Image: NAP)

Speaking at the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium yesterday, Eddie Guerra of NAP said the results of a study currently underway “will help advance the discussion of how sites will adapt and how they will align with the mini-grids already planned.”

It follows a conclusion made in a NAP study last year that SMRs are achievable in the Puerto Rican context. The assessment was made according to the criteria of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Key to the analysis is Puerto Rico’s energy strategy, which is to rebuild the damage from Hurricane Maria of 2017 in a more resilient way by creating a network of micro-grids. Some 3,000 MWe of the island’s 3,247 MWe of operational power units will be replaced by 2025, with solar power expected to take an ever-increasing share of production.

However, the dynamics of island grids are difficult for solar. Puerto Rico has a stable demand level around 2,500 MWe, with peaks around 3,000 MWe. Last year’s NAP feasibility study said that only nuclear reactors can supplement intermittent renewable energy sources with basic zero-emission electricity generation. At the same time, a high degree of flexibility to follow the load would be required of all units joining a grid dominated by solar energy.

Despite being relatively small and separate from the continental United States (of which it is an unincorporated territory), Puerto Rico has a GDP of $ 104 billion, which is higher than that of several states, including Hawaii, New Hampshire and Idaho. Almost half of that comes from manufacturing, but energy prices remain high – around 19 cents per kWh while the price in most states in the United States is in the range of 9 to 11 cents per kWh, according to the figures presented by Guerra.

Last year’s feasibility study identified key demand centers, manufacturing centers and potential partners, Geurra said, adding that this information feeds into the ongoing site analysis alongside geological information and ‘other types of existing infrastructure.

Applying the requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NAP has so far identified two potential sites. One is on the north coast of the island near an industrial hub; the other on its coast is at the old naval station of Roosevelt Roads. Guerra said the current study “aims to develop a list of suitable sites with classification and factory setting envelopes for Puerto Rico.”

Island needs

Guerra noted that the NAP team has been contacted by other small and island nations keen to share information on the potential use of SMRs, with Singapore, Cyprus, Tasmania in Australia, Bahrain and Indonesia facing challenges similar to those of Puerto Rico, in particular the base load demand profile throughout the year. In addition, they must decarbonize, end their dependence on imported fossil fuels and increase their resilience while managing the intermittency of rapidly growing renewable generation, he said.

Research and writing by World Nuclear News