Corvallis-based NuScale Power on Monday announced a new partnership backed by several Western governors to develop a demonstration plant using its small modular nuclear reactor.
Dubbed the Western Initiative for Nuclear, the effort teams Nu
Scale with Energy Northwest and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to help get NuScale’s first small modular reactor — or SMR for short — up and running by 2024.
The preferred site for the demonstration plant is the Idaho National Laboratory, an 890-square-mile federal research complex in eastern Idaho that has been used to test more than 50 nuclear reactor prototypes.
Energy Northwest, a group of 27 public utilities in Washington, would have first shot at operating the new power plant, which is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of NuScale’s SMR design.
That design still needs to be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a lengthy process that will take until at least the end of 2018 to complete. Permitting and construction would take several years more.
Monday’s announcement came on the heels of a meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Park City, Utah, and carried endorsements from the governors of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and Arizona.
“This is a big and exciting day for NuScale Power,” chief commercial officer Mike McGough said during a conference call with reporters to discuss the deal.
Based on technology developed at Oregon State University, Nu
Scale’s SMR design features a self-contained 45 megawatt reactor vessel that would be built in a factory, then shipped to the generating site.
Reactors would be installed underground in large pools of water and could be linked in arrays of up to 12 units, producing up to 540 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power a city the size of Corvallis, but much smaller than conventional nukes.
The company’s design is also much simpler than traditional reactors, relying on natural convection currents rather than complicated systems of electrically powered pumps to cool the radioactive core.
The Western Governors’ Association made accelerating the development of small modular reactors a priority in a policy statement on energy issued during the conference.
Both of the utilities taking part in the Western Initiative for Nuclear have identified small modular reactors as a way of adding scalable, low-emission power generation to their portfolios.
“We can develop and install new modules on an as-needed basis,” said Dale Atkinson, vice president of Energy Northwest.
“We believe the NuScale SMR design offers reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy within the next 10 to 15 years.”
UAMPS also likes that aspect of the company’s modular design, government affairs manager Ted Rampton said, and is particularly impressed with its passive safety features, which would allow the reactors to cool with no operator input in the event of an earthquake or other disaster.
“NuScale’s technology appears to be safer than any other (SMR) technology we have evaluated,” he said.
Many of the details of the new initiative remain to be worked out, including the exact financial commitment of each of the partners and how much of the cost might be passed on to ratepayers.
But if things go as hoped, McGough said, it could lead to commercial orders for more NuScale reactors throughout the region.
“The Western Initiative for Nuclear is truly a regional initiative with the intent that the first project, potentially at the Idaho National Laboratory, would create a slipstream behind which additional projects could be developed,” he said.
Contact reporter Bennett Hall at email@example.com or 541-758-9529.