UAMPS CEO talks nuclear


Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems CEO Doug Hunter talked Tuesday about why the NuScale small modular reactor project is different from a reactor expansion in the Southeast that failed before it got off the ground.

Utilities South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper decided last month to halt construction of two new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina despite customers possibly being on the hook for $9 billion already sunk into the project, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.

The project, previously considered a beacon for the flagging U.S. nuclear industry, was billions over budget and years behind schedule. The situation further splintered when Westinghouse, designer and contractor of the new AP1000 reactor design, declared bankruptcy.

UAMPS, a consortium of 45 Western community-owned utilities, is planning to generate power by 2026 with its own reactor at the U.S. Department of Energy desert site west of Idaho Falls. The reactor is intended to be a clean-burning replacement for coal plants.

Hunter addressed concerns regarding cost overruns and other issues during a panel discussion at the Intermountain Energy Summit.

“I get pestered with these questions, and since we’re moving toward this type of portfolio change I thought it’d be good for me to explain why we aren’t V.C. Summer,” Hunter said.

One of the main differences is with UAMPS’ business model, he said.

A wave of enthusiasm toward new reactor designs in the 2000s led to the creation of federal carbon-reducing tax credits that will expire before the V.C. Summer project could’ve finished, the Washington Post reported. Now, the Trump administration is unlikely to take action that could hurt coal-burning plants in South Carolina.

NuScale’s small modular reactor will be competitive with natural gas out of the gate, Hunter said.

“It has to meet the price point; it can’t be any more expensive than combined-cycle natural gas. We are there. This technology is competitive with combined-cycle natural gas at today’s gas prices. That’s key for my membership, and we believe it’ll beat it out,” he said.

UAMPS officials also aren’t factoring increased utility usage into their projections.

“The utilities in the Southeast, they anticipated load growth and it did not show up. And that’s really hurting them right now,” Hunter said.

NuScale’s technology also makes the reactor a better fit for today’s energy climate, he said.

The first-of-its-kind plant design includes up to 12 small reactors, or “power modules,” at one facility. Modules will each produce 50 megawatts of energy, and can be added to the facility as energy demands increase. Twelve modules could produce enough power for around 425,000 homes.

The AP1000 reactor design produces 1,100 megawatts, and construction was underway for two plants at the V.C. Summer plant. Since the project began, natural gas prices have fallen.

“These are big projects,” Hunter said. “Loads have changed; things have changed since that project started. Their need for capacity isn’t as great as it was, especially at this price they’ll have to pay for it. One thing with the NuScale design is we can incrementally, at 50 megawatts a shot, add capacity. We can spread this out as we need.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.