In 2020, the US Department of Energy approved an investment of $1.35 billion over 10 years for a power plant referred to as the Carbon Free Power Project. NuScale planned, together with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), to build a plant with six reactors with a total output of 462 megawatts, which was supposed to be operational in 2030.
The project of the first SMR is cancelled
However, with the sharp decline in the prices of renewable resources, the economic side worsened and the backers began to back away from the whole project. Thus, several cities gradually withdrew from the project, as the costs of building a power plant with small modular reactors steadily increased.
The final straw came Wednesday, when NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems announced that the Carbon Free Power project lacked enough utility partners and was being canceled. In a statement, they said that “it seems unlikely that the project will have enough takers to continue towards commissioning”.
Still, NuScale President and CEO John Hopkins said in a press release that the firm will continue to work with other domestic and international customers to bring American small modular reactor (SMR) technology to market and increase the number of U.S. nuclear power plants.
Maybe they will build SMR in Ukraine
John Hopkins tried to be positive about the situation: “Our work on the Carbon Free Power Project over the past ten years has brought NuScale technology to the stage of commercial deployment; reaching this milestone is a huge achievement that we will continue to build on with future customers.”
However, none of the potential customers have progressed any projects as far as the Carbon Free Power Project, so it’s not at all certain that NuScale will be able to build any small commercial reactors before the end of the decade. The firm hopes to build SMRs in Romania, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine.
However, critics warn that at least no nuclear reactors should be built in Ukraine. They are thus reacting to the situation in the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant occupied by the Russian army during the invasion, along with repeated shelling in its vicinity, power outages and threats to water cooling sources.
Small modular reactors as hope
Nuclear power provides largely carbon-free electricity and can play a significant role in addressing climate change. However, in most industrialized countries, the construction of nuclear power plants usually significantly exceeds the budgeted costs and the established schedule by many years.
One hope to change that is the use of small modular nuclear reactors that can be built in a central manufacturing plant and then transported to the installation site. SMRs promise above all to reduce costs – for example, their smaller dimensions allow the use of passive cooling systems in case of power loss.
The small modular reactors are meant to suit new applications – for example, replacing decommissioned coal-fired power stations and could be located in remote areas. Proponents of the design say it is safer than today’s reactors, but critics complain that SMRs still produce hazardous nuclear waste.
Costs up 53%
The Utah plant was expected to be the first small modular reactor to receive a construction license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, already in January of this year, NuScale reported that the final price of electricity from this power plant is expected to be 89 US dollars per megawatt hour, which is 53% more than the previous estimate of 58 dollars per MWh.
News of the project’s termination is a blow to nuclear power in the US. There are currently no major reactors planned, and the last few projects of this kind have either been canceled or run dangerously over budget. Although several other small reactor projects are under consideration, none have yet passed the approval process at the Nuclear Energy Commission.