Work on New B&W Nuclear Reactor Brings Jobs to Lynchburg

Lynchburg, VA- Babcock and Wilcox in Lynchburg has been growing steadily and bringing jobs to our area for the past several years.

Their facility off 221 in Lynchburg first employed 25 workers in 2010, now they're up to about 200 workers. Friday, we got a behind the scenes look at exactly why they're growing.

The project that's causing all this growth is called m-Power. It's a new, smaller nuclear reactor, and with it B&W is hoping to change the future of nuclear energy.

"It's a lot of work," admits Jeff Halfinger, VP of NSSS Technology at B&W.

B&W is designing a smaller, less expensive nuclear plant from scratch, and they're making their own rules as they go.

"The premise of mPower is to be, to really take that technology to another level of safety," said Halfinger.

And here's how they'll make that happen: mPower plants will be completely controlled by technology, their entire reactors will be built underground, and engineers say their plants will be able to run without power for 14 days.

"We're relying on natural phenomenon, and to make sure those work the way we expect them to work, it takes a lot of testing and lot of verification of the design," said Halfinger.

That natural phenomenon is gravity. Like other facilities, mPower will use water to cool its reactors. Unlike other facilities, it will require no energy to move the water, only physics.

"It's all passive, meaning natural circulation, gravity drained," said Dave Kanuch, Manager of Systems Design Engineering at B&W.

And they test that design in Bedford County, at Region 2000's Center for Advanced Engineering and Research.

"B&W has created physical infrastructure here as part of their licensing and design process. That's really what sets them apart," said Bob Bailey, Exec. Dir. for Center for Advanced Engineering and Research.

The facility houses a 110 foot prototype of their design. There's no nuclear material there though, only a heating and cooling system under the watch of eager engineers.

"The development of this facility and the test programs we're doing, we believe, is essential to understand A, how to design the plant, and B, ultimately how to operate the plant," said Doug Lee, mPower Manager of Development and Testing.

Next year B&W will submit their plans for mPower to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build the plant. They say the licensing process could take several years.

They're aiming to be licensed by 2022, when they hope to build their first mPower plant in Tennessee. Until then, they have a lot of work to do, and engineers tell me that means more jobs.