Utah Cities Push Development of Next Generation of Nuclear Reactors

Published September 12, 2019

Several cities in and bordering Utah have formed a coalition to purchase nuclear power from a small modular reactor being planned at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), triggering the next phase in its development.

The coalition, called the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), has agreed to purchase more than 150 megawatts of electricity from INL’s project.

That amounts to enough electricity to power more than 150,000 homes. With the purchase agreement in place, INL will now focus on preparing a license application for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The small, modular reactors being developed by Oregon-based NuScale at INL are being touted as the latest generation in the delivery of nuclear power. They will be the first of their kind in the United States.

Upon completion, the INL project will constitute as many as 12 individual 60 megawatt modules, which could produce 720 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 750,000 homes.

Flexible Output

UAMPS is a nonprofit political subdivision of the state of Utah, consisting of cities and special service districts in six states established to generate and deliver electric power and affiliated services to its members. UAMPS sees adding nuclear energy to its portfolio as a hedge against price volatility from fluctuating natural gas and renewable energy prices and as a way to maintain grid reliability as regulatory mandates and market conditions force increasing numbers of reliable, coal-fueled power plants to shutter prematurely in order to be replaced with increasing amounts of intermittent wind and solar power.

INL’s reactor project is going to play an important role in future energy systems, says John F. Kotek, vice president of policy development and public affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“This project will incorporate small-reactor nuclear energy technology developed by NuScale, which represents a new generation of smaller nuclear power plants that are flexible in their output and should provide even better support to the electrical grid,” said Kotek. “The United States Department of Energy funded this project over the past 15 years, so getting it under construction will represent the culmination of a couple of decades’ worth of qualitative, private and public sector development of this next generation of nuclear technology.”

‘Dispatchable’ Power

The project is important for Idaho, too, says Kotek.

“Idaho is a fairly significant electricity importer, so new generators within the state’s borders would be welcomed,” said Kotek. “Also, the reactors will help balance out an increasing amount of wind and solar energy introduced into the system in Idaho.

“As we know, the intermittent nature of those technologies can present challenges to grid operators, so having something which is dispatchable like nuclear will provide important grid stability in that part of the country,” said Kotek.

The total project cost for the new generation of small, modular nuclear reactors is considerably lower than the large reactor types currently being built around the world, says Kotek.

“The concept is to actually push more of the construction back to the factory,” said Kotek. “Issuing factory-built modules for modular installation on site should provide more standardization and cost reduction over time.

“Each individual unit will be considerably smaller than the reactors built today,” said Kotek. “With NuScale, each unit would produce 70 megawatts of energy as opposed to the 1,000 megawatts of electricity from a large commercial reactor being built today.”

Costs Tripled by Regulations

Nuclear power is safe and would be inexpensive if it were not for often-unnecessary government safety regulations which have prevented nuclear power from becoming more widespread, says Jay Lehr, Ph.D., a senior policy analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition.

“Modular systems are being constructed all over Russia,” said Lehr. “While this project is the best news for the nuclear industry in decades, it is unfortunately likely the estimated costs of the project will not be reflective of what the actual costs will be, as the construction will include unnecessary safety provisions which have now tripled the costs of the existing nuclear power reactors beyond where they should be.”

Replacing fossil fuel-powered plants should not be a selling point for nuclear power, though it probably will be, says Lehr.

“Carbon dioxide is good for the planet,” said Lehr. “Nuclear power is good for America per se, and the industry should not be forced to promote its technology based on the fact it is carbon-dioxide emission-free, based on the great climate delusion fraud which claims carbon dioxide, in reality plant food, is a dangerous pollutant destroying the planet.”

Revitalizing Nuclear Energy Industry

The cost-sharing among the many communities buying into this project should make it more economical, Lehr says.

“If the units are built with only the necessary safety mechanisms, and not to safety margins and conditions called for by anti-nuclear luddites who will in reality never be satisfied, this project alone could revitalize America’s nearly defunct nuclear energy industry,” Lehr said.

“The day will come when the world runs on nuclear power, but in our country, I believe we have three centuries of natural gas which will be less expensive for some time to come, unless it is regulated out of existence by climate alarmists,” said Lehr.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.