Does NuScale’s Utah Setback Spell Trouble for the Small Modular Reactors?

Model of NuScale SMR project

(Credit: NuScale)

by | Nov 28, 2023

NuScale Power Corp. has come to symbolize the dawning of a new energy era — the emergence of small modular reactors. However, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale have mutually agreed to terminate the Carbon Free Power Project.

Nuclear energy has been beaten down and gotten back up time and again. Undoubtedly, this is a blow to the nuclear renaissance. NuScale and the Utah group terminated the project because not enough utilities agreed to buy the output. But there are several other small nuclear projects in the offing. Another company may emerge as the leader in the area, although small modular reactors could appeal mainly to industrial users.

“Our work with Carbon Free Power Project over the past ten years has advanced NuScale technology to the stage of commercial deployment; reaching that milestone is a tremendous success which we will continue to build on with future customers,” said NuScale President and CEO John Hopkins, in a release. “NuScale will continue with our other domestic and international customers to bring our American SMR technology to market and grow the U.S. nuclear manufacturing base, creating jobs across the U.S.”

Right-sized reactors are anything from 50 megawatts to 300 megawatts. However, the modules can be combined to form a 1 gigawatt plant. And if one module goes down, it can be repaired while the rest still operate. Such units generally come with a nuclear waste storage containment device.

To be clear, NuScale has other projects in the works, such as one with Polish copper and silver producer KGHM Polska Mied. NuScale inked the deal with the Polish company in 2022, which plans to complete the small modular reactor in 2029.

“KGHM is one of the largest Polish companies and at the same time one of the largest energy consumers in the country,” said KGHM President Tomasz Zdzikot, in World Nuclear News. “That is why our involvement in energy projects, among which the nuclear project is of primary importance, is obvious. This is a project which will guarantee the stability of our operations in the future.

“Taking into account the scale of KGHM’s demand, the company’s energy transformation towards renewable sources and nuclear reactors will also be an important element of the entire Polish energy mix,” he added.

Will Industrials Pick Up the Slack?

As for the Carbon Free Power Project, developers had planned to start constructing a 462-MW small-scale reactor in Utah in 2025 at the Idaho National Laboratory. However, developers pulled the plug when utilities didn’t agree to buy at least 80% of the expected output.

NuScale’s stumble has given rise to other established companies such as X-Energy and TerraPower.

TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy launched the Natrium project in September 2020, hoping to commercialize by 2030. They are now testing the technology, along with PacifiCorp. The Natrium reactors are purportedly able to firm up wind and solar power. In other words, it would be a clean backup generator.

Meanwhile, Dow is partnering with X-energy to develop a small modular reactor at one of Dow’s sites along the Gulf Coast, which could go live in 2030. Each modular reactor can generate 80 MW. But they can be stacked together to produce 320 MW, providing clean, reliable, and safe baseload power to support electricity systems or industrial applications.

“The market is a lot larger than ever because industrial members are moving in,” said Steve Chengelis, director of research and development for future nuclear at EPRI, who spoke during a public forum. “The industrial portion of the electrical consumption is about 25% (of CO2 releases,) which is why we will see this mass build-out.”

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