Proposed small reactors clear regulatory hurdle


America’s nuclear regulatory agency has completed the first step of its review of a proposal to build a 12-module small modular reactor plant in eastern Idaho.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission just finished the first and most intensive phase in its review of NuScale Power’s design certification application. There are five more phases, and NuScale expects the final approval to come in September 2020, said NuScale spokeswoman Mariam Nabizad.

“We are thankful for the rigorous review of our revolutionary nuclear design and greatly appreciate the government recognizing the importance of furthering NuScale’s advancement,” NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins said in a statement. “Our technology means significant economic and job benefits for the country and it’s positioned to revitalize the domestic nuclear industry by virtue of NuScale’s affordable, flexible, and safe solution to providing zero-carbon energy.”

The reactors at Idaho National Laboratory’s desert site will be owned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. They would help to provide power to Idaho Falls and other power systems throughout the Intermountain West. NuScale and UAMPS officials told Idaho lawmakers earlier this year that they expect the power to be cost-competitive with natural gas but without the carbon emissions. Legislators passed two tax exemption bills this year meant to aid the project.

Some INL officials have been talking up the additional potential benefits of the small reactors. Speaking to a crowd in Idaho Falls in March, lab Director Mark Peters gave the example of the difference small, portable reactors could make if you could fly them to Puerto Rico, which is still suffering widespread power outages after hurricanes last year.

Also, the U.S. Department of Energy announced late last week that Oregon-based NuScale will get a $40 million grant to help with “design finalization activities” and “supply chain readiness” to help meet the goal of having the small modular reactor plant operational in 2026. It is a matching grant; NuScale and its partners will have to come up with the other $40 million.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.