Blow to Nuclear Power Industry’s Potential Growth
Portland-based nuclear power company NuScale has recently announced that it is abandoning its plans to construct a groundbreaking nuclear plant in Idaho. This decision comes as a blow to an industry that appeared poised to play a significant role in the ongoing energy transition.
NuScale specializes in the production of small modular nuclear reactors, and its ambitious Idaho project was intended to serve as an early test of the viability of these reactors in the United States. Unlike conventional American reactors that are large and site-specific, NuScale’s reactors are designed to be smaller and modular, offering the potential for streamlined construction and deployment. This could have paved the way for a more widespread adoption of nuclear power in the country.
Historically, constructing traditional nuclear reactors in the U.S. has proven to be a cumbersome and expensive process, often facing significant challenges from local communities. Consequently, only a limited number of new reactors have been built in recent decades. The most recent reactor to begin operation was completed in Georgia this year, seven years behind schedule and over budget, according to the Energy Information Administration. As a result, nuclear power’s contribution to the nation’s overall electricity production has been gradually decreasing and currently stands at approximately 18%.
Small modular reactors have garnered support from advocates of nuclear power due to their potential for standardized construction techniques, which could drive down costs and accelerate deployment. Given that solar and wind projects are not yet capable of shouldering the entire burden of decarbonizing power grids, nuclear technology could play a crucial role.
However, NuScale’s recent setback undermines these assumptions and threatens to set back progress within the industry. The costs associated with building the Idaho plant have steadily risen over time. Initially estimated at $5.3 billion in 2021, the latest estimate for the project stands at $9.3 billion. Furthermore, the projected cost of power generated by the plant has increased from $58 to $89 per megawatt-hour. In addition, NuScale cited insufficient customer interest as a contributing factor to their decision.
Despite the setback, NuScale maintains that the development of the Idaho project has allowed them to refine their reactor creation methods, which they consider to be a “tremendous success” for their business.
NuScale Leading the Way in the Commercial Deployment of Small Reactors
NuScale, a company dedicated to revolutionizing the field of nuclear power, has successfully reached the stage of commercial deployment. With its small reactor design approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), NuScale is poised to take the lead in the industry.
Critics of the project have raised concerns about safety, arguing that NuScale’s cost-cutting measures resulted in ill-advised design choices. Dr. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed these concerns.
In response, NuScale emphasizes the thorough review conducted by the NRC. The company provided over two million pages of supporting information to ensure the highest level of scrutiny.
While NuScale stands out as the only company with an approved small reactor design, it is not alone in its pursuit of this innovative technology. TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates, is also developing modular reactors. Although TerraPower is still working on deploying its first reactor, the company remains committed to the Natrium Demonstration Project in Wyoming.
However, Lyman believes that NuScale’s setbacks have broader implications for other companies in the modular reactor space. He suggests that newer designs may encounter even greater challenges than those faced by NuScale. This setback highlights the potential difficulties faced by other “exotic” reactor types currently in development.
Despite these concerns, both NuScale and TerraPower are determined to drive progress in the nuclear power industry. Their innovative designs and commitment to safety pave the way for a future where small and modular reactors become commonplace.