Idaho Hosts First Site for New, Scalable Nuclear Technology

The beginning of May marked a massive milestone in zero-carbon energy, as nuclear developer NuScale Power LLC passed Phase 1 of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) design application for its modular light water reactor nuclear power plant. The first phase of licensing took a collective 115,000 man-hours by the NRC, but the entire licensing process will take a total of approximately 46 months to complete. The design review started in January 2017 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2020. Although lengthy, the four-year time frame is the quickest a nuclear reactor will have ever been licensed.

This small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) draws public attention because it eliminates the dangers associated with large nuclear reactors while being scalable and more efficient. If there is a problem with the reactor, NuScale’s SMR shuts itself down and self-cools for an indefinite period of time, with no operator action required, no additional water, and no AC or DC power needed. This technology also includes special cybersecurity measures to protect from hackers. The NuScale design is more efficient than traditional large-scale reactors, using 1/20 of the nuclear fuel, and modules can be added or subtracted from a system to fit the needs of the load-serving entity. As a load-following module, it meets the market demand for electricity throughout the day instead of producing a fixed amount. This design helps minimize cost, improve grid resilience, and save energy. Global predictions estimate that that 1,000 SMRs will be-produced by 2035 and will deliver between 55 and 75 GW of electricity. NuScale is at the forefront of this technology in the U.S.

Diagram of the inner workings of an SMR
Source: NuScale Power, LLC
Above is a diagram of the inner workings of an SMR. Each
SMR is 23m x 5m and costs under $5,100/KW to generate power.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy awarded NuScale $40 million in cost-sharing financial assistance for the approximately $3 billion project. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is planning to develop the first NuScale 12-module reference plant at the Idaho National Lab with commercial operation of the first phase in 2026. NuScale Power intends to replace larger reactors in current nuclear plants with its SMRs so that nuclear becomes a reliable source of efficient energy that can be installed easily in rural areas and hustling cities alike.