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Questions Remain About ID Nuclear Reactor Project

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The Idaho National Laboratory will be home to NuScale's small, modular reactor project. (Sam Beebe/Flickr)
The Idaho National Laboratory will be home to NuScale's small, modular reactor project. (Sam Beebe/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
November 13, 2020

BOISE, Idaho - Questions are being raised about the future of NuScale Power's Idaho project to bring nuclear energy to cities in the Mountain West.

NuScale's small, modular reactor design is the first of its kind to be approved in the United States. The new, compact concept is made up of 12 small reactors and will be located at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Sarah Fields, program director with the group Uranium Watch, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to scrutinize the project carefully. In particular, she said she's concerned about a proposal for fewer people to oversee the project.

"They want to reduce the number of operators, and that's just to save money," said Fields. "And the NRC is undergoing a review of that."

NuScale said the project needs fewer operators because of its design is simpler and the controls involve more automation. The NRC is reviewing the proposal, which could involve policy changes since the approval process is based on conventional nuclear power plant designs.

The NRC has approved the Design Certification Application for the project in its current form. But Fields said the agency still has to authorize certain aspects of the design.

One NRC engineer has raised questions about dilution of boron water around reactor cores, which could cause a dangerous power surge even if the reactor is shut down. Fields said it could be hard to make modifications once aspects of the design are approved.

"It's like designing a house," said Fields. "And once you want to change one thing about the house, then you have to make all different kinds of adjustments. And then, get approvals from that."

There's another problem: seven Utah cities have recently withdrawn from the project, and Idaho Falls has cut its commitment in half. Fields pointed out that some of the largest cities in the agreement have backed out.

"Logan or Heber Light and Power," said Fields, "they have to put more money into the pot if they move forward, and they just had questions about it."

Nuscale plans to have the project operational by 2029.

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