The small modular reactors planned for the Idaho Falls area won’t be up and running for years, but the company that will make them says they’re already getting international interest.
“We want to export these globally,” Chris Colbert, NuScale Power’s chief strategy officer, told Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission at its meeting in Idaho Falls Thursday.
Colbert said NuScale has already heard from two entities in Canada, one in Romania and one in Jordan that want to be the second place after eastern Idaho to host some of the small reactors. He said some representatives from Jordan plan to visit Idaho National Laboratory soon to learn more about the project, and joked that Idaho Falls Regional Airport will have to add an international terminal once the reactors are operational.
NuScale is looking to build the 720-megawatt, 12-reactor facility near INL’s desert site. It would provide power to Idaho Falls and some member cities of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, as well as providing power to and helping research at INL.
The reactors are going through the permitting process now and construction is expected to start in the mid-2020s. Colbert said the process has mostly been on or a little ahead of schedule.
“We’re very comfortable where we are with the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission),” he said.
Doug Hunter, UAMPS’ president and CEO, said if the power grid were to go out, the reactors could power most of eastern Idaho, including Idaho Falls and Pocatello, the minute the grid is available again.
“This is a huge economic development potential for you,” he said. “You can bring in very electric-sensitive loads.”
Hunter said UAMPS is looking at a potential site for the reactors closer to Arco and further west than the original site, due to greater seismic activity at the first spot. He said UAMPS is working with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes since there are concerns about artifacts in the area.
NuScale also announced earlier this week it has signed a deal with the Virginia-based company Enfission to collaborate on research and testing to explore using Enfission’s nuclear fuel rod technology in NuScale’s reactors.
In a presentation about Idaho Falls’ power system following Hunter and Colbert’s, Idaho Falls Power General Manager Bear Prairie said power from the reactors would likely cost $50 to $60 per megawatt hour. This is more expensive than many other sources — it costs Idaho Falls Power $21.25 per megawatt hour for hydropower and $24 for grid-scale solar, for example — but cheaper than wind power, which costs $63.32 per megawatt hour.
Prairie said depending on the market too much to buy power could leave the city vulnerable to price spikes. Much of his presentation was spent talking about March 5, when market rates skyrocketed to $1,000 per megawatt hour due to the polar vortex.
“(The) market might look really inexpensive, but it can quickly turn as the supply and demand gets tight,” he said.
Also, he said, if there were to be a problem with one reactor module, the others would still work.
“It’s all about diversification of resources,” he said.
Tami Thatcher, a former nuclear safety analyst at INL who is now a nuclear safety consultant, questioned the project’s benefits during the public comment period.
“This LINE Commission lives in a bubble,” she said. “A bubble of only the most optimistic view. We never talk about the realities here. It wouldn’t be polite, it wouldn’t fit in.”
Thatcher said the estimated cost for reactor power is both higher than some other forms of energy and that it could end up being even more expensive than that.
“That’s not locked in, that’s just a guesstimate ... it’s already double what solar would cost,” she said.