Modular reactors being developed by Fluor Corp.’s NuScale Power can be a “game-changer” by making nuclear power plants more affordable to build, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.
“The proof will be in the pudding in terms of the economic performance, but it looks very promising and that can be a game-changer,” Moniz told reporters at a round of United Nations climate talks in Paris. “If we have a viable pathway at building nuclear power in smaller bites, the whole financing structure can change and make it much more affordable.”

NuScale is commercializing technology developed at Oregon State University. Its modular approach is designed to create nuclear reactors that are cheaper and quicker to build, and safer to shut down in a disaster. The company has won millions in federal grants to support its work.

The U.S. and other nations are seeking ways to make nuclear power easier and cheaper to deploy so it can provide low-carbon baseload power to complement renewables. The U.S. has a program to help develop small-scale reactors, and in the U.K., the Treasury last month said it would plow 250 million pounds ($377 million) into researching the technology.

“If we can demonstrate let’s say the first modular reactor in the early part of the next decade, then what we hope is it’s part of the planning process in the middle of the next decade for our utilities,” Moniz said. “Around 2030 the 60-year lifetime of existing reactors will start to kick in, and that’s a time period when utility commitments to a new round of nuclear will be especially important.”

Moniz also said that in the U.S., there are almost 50 companies with private-sector funding that are developing new nuclear fission and nuclear fusion technologies. “If a couple of those make it it’s a big deal,” he said.