Final Green Light For Nuclear SMR Design From US Feds

NuScale SMR (small modular reactor) power plant

It’s official – the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has published its final rule giving the thumbs-up to NuScale Power’s small modular reactor, the first SMR design certified by the NRC.

As the term suggests, a small modular reactor is smaller in size than conventional nuclear reactors. Some of the claimed benefits of SMR-based plants compared to their larger counterparts include lower capital costs, modular design, increased safety and lower emissions.

The approved NuScale Power design is for an advanced light-water SMR rated at 50MW capacity, but NuScale is also in the process of seeking approval to boost this to 77MW. A NuScale VOYGR SMR power plant can house up to 12 factory-built power modules – so, up to 600MW as things currently stand or 924MW should the upgraded power module design pass muster.

“SMRs are no longer an abstract concept,” said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathryn Huff. “They are real and they are ready for deployment thanks to the hard work of NuScale, the university community, our national labs, industry partners, and the NRC.”

SMR = Pricey Power

On the deployment side of things, the USA’s Department of Energy is currently working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) on a project to demonstrate a six-module NuScale VOYGR plant at Idaho National Laboratory.

But as this project has progressed, the price of electricity from the yet-to-be-built plant keeps increasing – which is no surprise where nuclear power is involved.

The original target price was USD $55 per megawatt-hour (MWh). That crept up to $58/ MWh in 2021. Back in November last year, we mentioned David Schlissel from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA) predicted prices from the project were likely to end up in the range of $90-$100 per MWh. And that’s after a $1.4 billion subsidy from the DoE and an Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) subsidy of $30 per MWh.

A new and much more detailed cost estimate from NuScale and UAMPS released this month pegs the target price for energy from the proposed SMR project at $89/MWh according to Mr. Schlissel. This is due to a 75% increase in the estimated construction cost for the project, which has jumped from $5.3 to $9.3 billion dollars.

The $89/MWh is in 2022 bucks and Mr. Schlissel says assuming a 2% inflation rate through to 2030, cost of electricity from the plant would be $102/ MWh.

“The new estimate makes the NuScale SMR about as expensive on a dollars-per-kilowatt basis ($20,139/kW) as the two-reactor Vogtle nuclear project currently being built in Georgia, undercutting the claim that SMRs will be cheap to build,” says Mr. Schlissel.

While the cost of anything first-of-its-kind tends to be high initially, conventional nuclear power projects are notorious for cost blowouts and it would seem SMR plants will follow suit. And Mr. Schlissel warns there’s likely to be more increases as the project continues to evolve.

“.. no one should fool themselves into believing this will be the last cost increase for the NuScale/UAMPS SMR.”

Cost is the major reason Australian power stations will never go nuclear – SMR or otherwise – even if Australia’s ban on nuclear energy was lifted. Renewables are already and will continue to be the cheapest new-build electricity generation option in Australia, even when including storage and transmission costs.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. George Kaplan says

    Always fascinating to see the progress of science.

  2. Doesnt appear that small !

  3. Geoff Miell says

    Per E&E News article by Peter Behr published 14 Dec 2022, headlined Rising costs imperil nation’s leading small reactor project, it included:

    To keep the UAMPS project on track, developers will not only have to keep existing utility sponsors — they will have to sign on new ones.

    Twenty-seven of UAMPS’ 50 member utilities are sponsors of the project, agreeing to buy 116 MW of power. But Webb said the entire 462 MW of capacity must be fully subscribed for the project to go forward.

    https://www.eenews.net/articles/rising-costs-imperil-nations-leading-small-reactor-project/

    So 75% of capacity is yet to be subscribed for the UAMPS project to proceed.
    I’d suggest this is a rather inconvenient detail that seems to be missed/ignored by many SMR boosters.

  4. Geoff Miell says

    Michael Bloch: – “Cost is the major reason Australian power stations will never go nuclear – SMR or otherwise – even if Australia’s ban on nuclear energy was lifted.

    ICYMI, rising costs have stopped the NuScale/UAMPS SMR project. On 11 Nov 2023, E&E News published an article by Zach Bright headlined NuScale cancels first-of-a-kind nuclear project as costs surge.
    https://www.eenews.net/articles/nuscale-cancels-first-of-a-kind-nuclear-project-as-costs-surge/

    And Dr Jim Green outlines a litany of small reactor failures in a RenewEconomy post published on 28 Nov 2023, headlined Small modular nuclear reactors: a history of failure. He begins with:

    Small modular reactors (SMRs) are defined as reactors with a capacity of 300 megawatts (MW) or less. The term ‘modular’ refers to serial factory production of reactor components, which could drive down costs.

    By that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and none are being built now. In all likelihood none will ever be built because of the prohibitive cost of setting up factories for mass production of reactor components.

    No SMRs have been built, but dozens of small (≤300 MW) power reactors have been built in numerous countries, without factory production of reactor components. The history of small reactors is a history of failure.

    https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-modular-nuclear-reactors-a-history-of-failure/

    I’d suggest those people who think/promote that small (or any) nuclear power reactors would be a success here in Australia if only the nuclear power ban was lifted are living in fantasyland.

    Meanwhile, it seems the +1.5 °C global mean warming threshold will likely be breached in the 2020s.
    https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfclm/kgad008
    https://twitter.com/EliotJacobson/status/1726682184914989529

    Nuclear cannot save us!

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