A small modular reactor project that would have provided nuclear energy for the local power grid is dead - East Idaho News
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A small modular reactor project that would have provided nuclear energy for the local power grid is dead

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IDAHO FALLS – A project that would’ve generated enough nuclear energy to power about 346,500 homes throughout the western U.S. has officially come to an end.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy partnered with NuScale Power in Portland, Oregon, and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems — a network of 50 power companies throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Idaho and Wyoming — to build 12 small modular nuclear reactors on property used by the Idaho National Laboratory.

Dubbed the Carbon Free Power Project, it was the first in U.S. history to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Biden administration provided $1 billion for its cconstruction, according to the Huffington Post.

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The goal was to put the electricity on the power grid and sell it to commercial investors at a fixed rate throughout the West once it went online in 2029.

On Wednesday, after more than eight years of work, UAMPS and NuScale announced their decision to terminate the project.

“This decision is very disappointing, given the years of pioneering hard work put into the CFPP,” UAMPS Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Mason Baker says in a news release. “Yet, this decision is the best course for the UAMPS members participating in the CFPP, and doing what is best for those member communities will always be the guiding light in such decisions.”

EastIdahoNews.com was unable to get in touch with a NuScale employee for comment. But a Deseret News article provides additional background on this decision.

Over time, the scale of the project reportedly got smaller, and costs were getting larger. Ultimately, they needed to have enough contracts on the books to be able to sell at least 80% of the electricity. The parties failed to meet that threshold and mutually decided it was best to cancel the project.

The fact that it was the first project of its kind in the country may have had something to do with the project’s failure.

Idaho Falls Power was one of the members involved in UAMPS. Had this project been deployed, general manager Bear Prairie says it would’ve resulted in about 5 MW being added to the local energy market (enough power for about 3,750 homes). That accounts for less than 3% of its customer base.

The decision to shut down the Carbon Free Power Project is not a significant blow to the local area, he says.

“We never had all our eggs in this one basket, but we certainly are excited about advanced nuclear (projects) and want to support (its continued development),” Prairie says.

IFP is looking at several collaborative projects with INL in the future. One of those involves placing new reactors on the Peak Generation Plant, a 135-acre parcel off Yellowstone Highway designed to generate 12 to 15 megawatts of on-demand energy during peak periods.

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The utility is hoping the INL will supply hydrogen to the plant to help provide clean fuels to the local grid during the winter heating season in the early morning and late evening and during the summer cooling season after 5 p.m.

Although the INL is disappointed the NuScale project is no longer moving forward, it wasn’t the only advanced reactor project it was involved in. Numerous experimental projects are in the works between now and 2030 that officials hope will one day become commercially viable.

Those projects are listed in the graphic below.

advanced reactor projects