A project to build a first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor in eastern Idaho has been significantly downsized.
The initial plan for the Carbon-Free Power Project was to build 12 interconnected miniature nuclear reactor modules to produce a total of 600 megawatts. It would be the first small modular reactor in the United States. After the company tasked with manufacturing the plants said it could make the reactors more power-efficient, planners reduced the project down to six module reactors that could produce 462 MW total.
“After a lot of due diligence and discussions with members, it was decided a 6-module plant producing 462 MW would be just the right size for (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) members and outside utilities that want to join,” said LaVarr Webb, UAMPS spokesman.
The decision was made in late June, Webb said.
The project between UAMPS and Portland-based reactor producer NuScale received $1.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy last year. The reactor is planned to be built on the DOE’s 890-square mile desert site west of Idaho Falls at Idaho National Laboratory. The plant is expected to be running by 2029.
“A 6-module plant allows us to get to full subscription faster, but we would have reached full subscription regardless,” Webb said of the project’s ability to achieve full financial commitment from partners. “Before joining a next-generation, first-of-a-kind nuclear plant, utilities obviously want to be certain the plant is feasible and will be built. Now that we have made significant progress, including a large cost-share award from the Department of Energy, and NuScale has received design approval from the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), we’re seeing more and more utilities express interest in the plant.”
So far, Webb said 28 participants have committed to a total of 103 MW. But, he said, “all are currently evaluating whether to increase or decrease” their commitments. He also said “a number of utilities outside of UAMPS are considering” making a commitment.
“We’re confident the project’s entire 462 MW will be fully subscribed,” Webb said.
Supporters of the project characterize it as a key part of transitioning away from carbon-emitting power sources that contribute to climate change.
“There is not much of a carbon-free future for many municipalities if we can’t figure out some of this bridge technology to get us to some of these long-term solutions,” Idaho Falls City Council member John Radford said at a July 8 meeting. “This project is something that can help keep this country on this trajectory to a carbon-free future and maybe a better existence for all of us.”
Others who support the project worry about its incomplete financial support. All but one council member that day voted to continue Idaho Fall’s 5 MW commitment. But two voiced direct concern over the project not having full subscriptions. Council member Jim Francis was the sole nay vote.
“If this project works out, it’ll be great. I just wish there was a slight bit more security,” he told the Post Register in a phone interview.
Last October, the Idaho Falls City Council halved its then-10 MW commitment. The move maintained the city’s involvement but reduced the risk to customers of the city-ran grid, by Idaho Falls Power, if the investment doesn’t pan out, the Post Register previously reported.
Downsizing the project reduces the project’s costs and the amount of power it can produce, overall. The energy cost that project partners will pay rose from $55 per megawatt-hour to $58 per megawatt-hour. And the amount of power each of the six modules can produce has risen from 50 to 77 MW.
NuScale said the slightly higher cost “is still an exceptional price for carbon-free, dispatchable (always available) electric power.”
“The (cost rate) of other advanced reactor projects, green hydrogen, storage, batteries, etc., are all projected to far exceed $58MWh. The CFPP would still be the most competitive non-carbon, dispatchable resource,” NuScale said in a statement.
The company refused to disclose the modular reactor project’s exact costs.
Webb said the project is currently working toward submitting an application to the NRC in 2024 to build and operate the reactor.