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Report: ID Nuclear Project Faces Major Hurdles

A project for a new nuclear reactor design is slated to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
A project for a new nuclear reactor design is slated to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
September 3, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- A new report says problems lie ahead for a new nuclear plant design in Idaho that will supply power to municipalities in six states.

Dr. M.V. Ramana, director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, has studied nuclear power proposals around the world.

He said the small modular reactor project to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory has presented troubling signs for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) members.

For instance, the cost of the project has doubled, from $3 billion to $6 billion, in the past five years.

"UAMPS members could be on the hook for extreme cost overruns and project cancellation," Ramana warned. "Making it a risky proposition for them to continue investing in an untested, first-of-its-kind nuclear power facility."

UAMPS members include small cities and municipalities in Idaho, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the project last week.

John Hopkins, head of NuScale Power, the company behind the project, said it's a significant milestone for the advanced nuclear technologies to follow.

But Dr. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes there are flaws in the proposal.

According to Lyman, new nuclear plants should have significant safety improvements over current designs.

"The NRC should license and regulate new nuclear reactors in a manner that ensures that the risks they pose to public health and safety will be substantially lower than the risks of today's plants," Lyman said. "Unfortunately, by those standards, I think both the NuScale design and the NRC's approach to licensing it deserve failing grades."

NuScale has said it will produce power at $55 per megawatt hour. But Ramana is skeptical, and said renewable energy sources would be a better investment.

"Pursuing cheaper, currently available solar, wind energy storage batteries and energy efficiency would be a more reliable path for UAMPS to shift to a carbon-free energy future," Ramana added.

The Utah Taxpayers Association opposes the project.

It said cities and municipalities that want to avoid being locked into costs should hold public votes to withdraw from the agreement by Sept. 14. The first reactor is slated to go online in 2029.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID