BOISE — Officials for Idaho National Laboratory, NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems briefed the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Tuesday about developing 12 small modular reactors at the INL site.
“We continue to be a lab that’s solving big national challenges,” INL Director Mark Peters said.
That briefing included mention of two forthcoming bills that INL and related companies are seeking in this year’s legislative session.
According to lobbyist Ken McClure, who has been hired to work on the bills, one would exempt two of the 12 SMR units from sales tax. Idaho has an existing sales tax exemption for research facilities at INL, and INL plans to purchase those two units for research purposes. But because those two units are part of the larger 12-unit project, with the remaining 10 reserved to provide commercial power production, the lab wants to get clarification about the portion of the project dedicated to research.
“For those two modules, for one-sixth of the expenditure on this facility, it would remain sales tax exempt,” McClure said. “That’s what they would get if they only built two units. They shouldn’t be penalized because we’re also building 10 more.”
The second bill, McClure said, seeks to make a few technical changes to a law to “make the bolt holes line up” and ensure an existing tax break for large investment projects can be used.
Lawmakers passed a bill in 2008 that exempted new properties with assessed values of more than $400 million and total investment of more than $1 billion from property taxes. That bill was written with an eye to a planned uranium enrichment facility planned by Areva, which has stalled following a reduction in demand for nuclear fuel triggered by the 2011 reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan.
The SMR project is expected to be large enough to qualify for such a break.
Peters also went through a review of the lab’s recent performance and expansion. For the fourth year in a row, the lab was given an ‘A’ rating by the Department of Energy.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re performing very well,” Peters said.
The lab is the sixth largest private employer in Idaho (though it’s a federal facility, it’s run by a contractor), providing nearly 4,300 jobs with an average salary of $96,000. According to his presentation, the lab has worked to shrink administration and management, focusing dollars on investments and infrastructure instead.
NuScale CEO John Hopkins detailed his company’s’ progress toward the construction of innovative small modular reactors. More than $700 million have been invested in the project so far, he said, and the company is currently going through the lengthy process of Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification.
He and UAMPS CEO Doug Hunter told the committee that current cost estimates indicate power from the small modular reactor project will be cost competitive with natural gas, but without climate-change-driving carbon emissions. Hopkins told the committee he thinks the eventual size of the SMR market might be enormous, with applications such as the electrification of Africa, where siting small reactors could eliminate the need for large power lines.
“I don’t really know how big this market is, but the potential is huge,” Hopkins said.
Chairman Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, a farmer, said that idea appeals to him.
“I think we’ve been privileged in getting in on a new era in power production,” Raybould said. “Here we have an opportunity to have these little small power plants that can be located right next to cities, and we don’t have to have these big power lines.”
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.