Guest column: Building an SMR in eastern Idaho

Support is strong for building an SMR at INL to advance the next generation in nuclear, writes Jackie Flowers.

By Jackie Flowers

You may have heard about the effort to build a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) at the Idaho National Laboratory site.

Projected to go online as soon as 2024 at the Idaho National Laboratory site, the SMR project would be the first NuScale-designed SMR built and operated anywhere in the world.

Spearheading this initiative is the public power consortium Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) as part of its Carbon Free Power Project, which includes energy efficiency, distributed generation (rooftop solar), and small modular nuclear reactors.

This first-of-its-kind project is important not just to our community, region, state and nation, but to the entire world. Here’s why:

Scalable - The NuScale design allows for a much smaller footprint than traditional-sized reactors while also allowing for scalability of generating capacity to match demand: Incremental 50-megawatt modules can be deployed, up to 600 megawatts, as demand for energy dictates.

Flexible - The flexibility of the design supports integration with renewables. A recent analysis of nuclear-wind integration reinforced the multi-module nature of the design, allowing plant output to be varied by up to 40 percent and supporting integration with wind and solar generation.

Safe - The NuScale SMR takes safety to a new level by relying on naturally occurring convection, conduction and gravity for plant operation, as opposed to electrically driven pumps, motors and valves. In an emergency, the reactor would shut down and cool with no human action, AC or DC power or additional water.

Reliable - The SMR would produce baseload electricity day after day, hour after hour, for decades.

Clean - As INL Director Mark Peters has repeatedly said, any serious effort to combat climate change must include nuclear. Nuclear power plants produce no carbon or air pollution and they provide 63 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity.

Expertise - Immediate access to the world’s leading experts is another reason to operate the world’s first SMR at the INL, where 52 original nuclear reactors were designed and constructed.

Economic development - According to NuScale, the world’s first SMR plant would create about 1,100 jobs during peak construction and 360 permanent jobs when operational. Permanent jobs will pay an average salary of $85,000 and support the mission and vision of Idaho’s fifth-largest employer, INL. The project’s impact on the local economy is significant: Total labor income during construction is expected to increase by $1.5 billion, according to Idaho Department of Labor estimates, and combined industry sales are expected to increase by $3.8 billion. Once operational, combined labor income is expected to increase by $98 million and combined industry sales are expected to increase by $389 million. And this does not even take into account the supply chain opportunities or the secondary or tertiary economic development impacts.

Support is strong to build a facility that has so much to offer. Idaho can be proud of its leadership role in advancing next generation nuclear.

Flowers is general manager of Idaho Falls Power and also board chairwoman of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a public power joint action agency consisting of 44 member utilities in seven western states.