The Biden administration’s efforts towards clean energy were dealt another setback on Wednesday as a plan to construct a unique small modular nuclear reactor power plant was cancelled, following the recent cancellations of two large offshore wind projects.
NuScale Power, headquartered in Oregon, is the sole provider of a certified small modular nuclear reactor design in the United States. Their initial project involves partnering with a consortium of utility companies in Utah to showcase a six-reactor facility at the Idaho National Laboratory, producing sufficient energy to supply over 300,000 households.
The plan was for the project to become operational in 2029, with the goal of replacing electricity generated by closing coal plants. By utilizing both wind and solar power, the advanced nuclear technology aimed to assist municipalities and public power utilities in multiple western states in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power industry.
Unfortunately, NuScale and the Utah utilities have announced that they are ending their project after ten years of effort. This decision was made due to the cancellation of two major offshore wind projects in New Jersey, which were hindered by issues with the supply chain, high interest rates, and an inability to secure desired tax credits.
Orsted, a large energy company based in Denmark, recently made an announcement that dealt a blow to the emerging offshore wind industry in the United States. This news also hindered President Joe Biden’s target of reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which would be sufficient to power 10 million households.
The Energy Department’s representative expressed disappointment about the cancellation, but acknowledged that initial deployments can be challenging. Government officials are confident that the progress made on this project will be beneficial for future developments in nuclear energy.
Charisma Troiano, a spokesperson, stated that advanced nuclear energy technology is necessary in order to achieve the ambitious clean energy goals of the Biden administration.
“Although success is not guaranteed for every project, the DOE is dedicated to utilizing all available resources to implement these technologies in efforts to address the climate emergency and expand access to renewable energy.”
According to Timothy Fox, who holds the role of vice president at ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm in Washington, NuScale’s recent announcement is a significant setback for small-scale nuclear power. However, Fox also notes that there is still a significant amount of interest in developing this technology at other locations. It is currently unknown if other ongoing projects will face similar challenges.
According to Fox, the previous leader has stumbled and is no longer in the lead.
The Energy Department, spanning three administrations, has allocated over $600 million since 2014 to aid in the planning, approval, and location selection for a small modular reactor power plant near Idaho Falls, Idaho at the Idaho National Laboratory.
The Carbon Free Power Project, also known as the project, received approval from the Trump administration in 2020 for a maximum of $1.4 billion. This agreement acts as a way to provide funding and is dependent on future allocations by Congress.
The discontinuation of the Idaho initiative brought to mind for some naysayers the previous downfall of Solyndra, a solar company based in California that went into bankruptcy shortly after receiving a loan from the Obama administration over ten years ago, resulting in a loss of over $500 million for taxpayers.
The partnership between NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems has stated that they do not anticipate receiving enough subscriptions from local power providers to move forward with the project. This power system currently serves 50 members, primarily consisting of municipalities and public power utilities in Utah and other Western states.
The Utah group stated that many potential subscribers were hesitant to accept the risks involved in creating a pioneering nuclear project.
According to the company, expenses have risen by over 50% in the past two years, reaching $89 per megawatt hour. Small reactors are being considered as a substitute for conventional nuclear power, which is more expensive and involves large reactors that cost billions of dollars and require decades to be built.
John Hopkins, the President and CEO of NuScale, stated that the company will persist in collaborating with both domestic and international clients to introduce their technology in the market. The approved design, which was given the seal of approval by federal regulators, is for a 50-megawatt small modular nuclear reactor that uses advanced light-water. Currently, the company is seeking certification for a more powerful 77-megawatt design.
NuScale stated that it has the capability to utilize power plant design blueprints and regulatory advancements from the terminated project for other clients. The company is currently in the process of transferring materials with significant lead times to alternative projects.
The power system in Utah has announced its plans to prioritize non-nuclear sources in the near future. It also stated the need for more renewable sources, mainly solar and wind, alongside new natural gas.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the industry, expressed disappointment over the cancellation but acknowledged the challenges of developing new technologies. The institute stated that NuScale has a design that will provide clean and dependable energy in the future, which is crucial as the demand for clean energy increases worldwide.
Ken Cook, the current leader of the Environmental Working Group, a group that advocates against the use of nuclear power, stated that the Energy Department has recklessly spent over $500 million of taxpayer funds under three different administrations.
“It is high time for the small modular reactor failure to come to an end,” stated Cook. “It is a tremendous loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers, which could have been allocated towards established, secure, and sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind.”
Although there have been no other proposals for certification of small modular reactors or advanced designs submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency announced on Thursday that other companies are nearing the application process and there is significant activity in the industry.
McDermott provided information from Providence, Rhode Island.
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