Nov. 12, 2023 (EIRNS)—The NuScale Corporation and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a regional group of electric power utilities, canceled the nation’s first project to actually put small modular nuclear reactors online. The trigger for the cancellation was withdrawals from the project by enough UAMPS member companies to put the subscription level below 80% of the entire regional group; according to their plan made years ago, that level was required. The reason for the withdrawals depends on what account one reads.
NuScale has prospective project contracts or development partnerships in a number of other nations in Eastern Europe and Asia; now has producers for its 72 MW factory-built units; and has the possibility that one of those engineering companies—Nucor or Fluor—will acquire NuCor outright. So its Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved technology is likely to come through the initial failure.
But its near-term future is probably in other nations. The United States continues to mark itself as an economy and regulatory/litigation environment in which nuclear power cannot be revived. The UAMPS member utilities that withdrew were spooked by long licensing delays (even after the years-long Nuclear Regulatory Commission design approval, it had to license the SMR model to be produced); and by reports of the power acquisition cost average over 40 years having risen from NuScale’s projected $55 per megawatt, to $89. But the latter figure was merely the new estimate of an outfit called the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which opposes SMRs in general as well as gas-powered electricity, and supports only “renewables.”
A report this year by the PJM Interconnection, the power system operator for 13 northern states from Illinois to New Jersey. PJM Interconnection found in a Feb. 24, 2023 study “four trends below that, in combination, present increasing reliability risks during the transition, due to a potential timing mismatch between resource retirements, load growth and the pace of new generation entry under a possible ‘low new entry’ scenario….”
The North American Electric Reliability Council’s new 2023-24 Winter Reliability Assessment says vulnerability to natural gas shortages is growing. Bloomberg wrote Nov. 9 that it is “even more dire than last year’s report, which said a quarter of Americans were at risk of cold-weather power emergencies. It includes for the first time some of the most densely populated areas on the East Coast, a region that relies heavily on natural gas as it transitions to renewable energy. Gas generators there widely failed during a brief but fierce winter storm last December because they broke down or couldn’t get fuel.”