Western Cities Vote to Keep U.S. Nuclear Dream Alive (For Now)

Proposed NuScale facility in Idaho.

A group of cities in the western United States has They voted to move forward with a new nuclear project It could help revolutionize how clean energy is generated in this country — despite skyrocketing project costs.

On Tuesday, a group of 26 cities in Utah, Idaho and New Mexico, Nv said They wanted to continue their investment in what would become the first batch of small modular reactors in the United States. NuScale, the company behind the project, told the group in January that energy costs generated from the planned project have jumped more than 50% since it last calculated its estimates.

Nuclear power is an essential form of basic energy that can provide reliable, carbon-free electricity at a low operating cost. But large-scale nuclear projects in the United States have traditionally been infrastructural behemoths, often taking decades to construct with specialized parts made for each plant. He made it Saab in peconomic years for nuclear power plants to compete With falling costs of natural gas and renewable energy, Where plants struggle to recover Upfront investment. Small modular reactors, known as SMRs, could theoretically lower the costs of larger reactors by using factory-made parts shipped to the site.

It was NuScale’s SMR design It was approved in late January by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority; It is the first SMR design ever approved by the US government, and only the seventh reactor design to be certified. The test project is to be built in Idaho, and the project consists of six reactors with a capacity of 482 megawatts. Come online in 2030. The coalition of cities participating in the Idaho project is known as Utah Municipal Energy Systems (UAMPS), a network of local utilities and other agencies that signed up to become the nation’s first-ever customers of SMR.

The cost increases that NuScale reported to cities in January were due to basic things around supply chain management and inflation. Materials around the world are generally more expensive than they have been in years past, and SMRs, while smaller than conventional reactors, are still huge infrastructure projects. However, NuScale said it had revised its energy price estimate up to an increase WIRED reported last month it Some cities may go from paying $58 per megawattat-hour energy to $89; Total project costs are now about $9.3 billion. that it An uncomfortable echo that other nuclear projects in the United States have Experienced inflated costs. The UAMPS Alliance has already seen three cities withdraw from the agreement with NuScale in 2020, After the company had previously revised its costs upwards.

“The project will support our decarbonization efforts, complement and enable more renewable energy, and maintain grid stability,” said Mason Baker, CEO and General Manager of UAMPS, to Reuters. “It will produce stable, carbon-free energy for 40 years or more.” Baker said UAMPS thought the project was still a good idea because the cost increase was due to supply chain materials used in other projects, not dedicated to nuclear technology.

The decision to move forward with the project from UAMPS is a vote of confidence in the future of the industry – and an illustration of the difficulties some cities have in figuring out where to get power in future, When dirty energy moves off the grid.

Jordan Garcia, deputy director of utilities for the City of Los Alamos, New Mexico, told WIRED that thirsty hydroelectric plants and retired coal plants mean the city will have to look for another source of renewable energy to meet its decarbonization goals if the NuScale plant doesn’t come through.

“We may actually have to invest in a natural gas unit to fill the gap until something else comes along,” he said.


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