The first blow to small modular reactors (SMRs), which were developed to replace the existing massive nuclear power plants, came from the US. NuScale’s planned small nuclear reactor plant has been canceled.
Nuclear power provides largely carbon-free energy and plays an important role in the fight against climate change. However, in most industrialized countries, the construction of nuclear power plants has fallen out of favor in recent years due to their tendency to far exceed budgeted costs and run years ahead of schedule.
To change this situation, the use of small, modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which can be built at a centralized production facility and then shipped to the site where they are to be built, has been on the agenda. Recently, however, NuScale and the utility that had planned to build the first small modular nuclear power plant in the US announced that it was canceling the project.
The unhappy end for NuScale’s small nuclear reactor plant
Small modular reactors potentially come with significant cost and safety advantages. Their smaller size makes it easier to deploy passive cooling systems in the event of power loss, which can prevent critical leaks. But the most fundamental benefit is that these reactors can be built in a centralized facility and then shipped to where they will be installed. This provides economies of scale and increases reusability.
Earlier this year, the US approved the first design for a small, modular nuclear power plant developed by NuScale Power. The Idaho National Laboratory would work to help build the first NuScale installation, the Carbon Free Power Project. Under the plan, the national lab would maintain a few of the first reactors on site, and some nearby utilities would buy electricity.
But with renewable energy prices plummeting, the economic backdrop for the project has deteriorated. The final straw came when NuScale and its primary utility partner, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, announced that the project did not have enough utility partners at a planned checkpoint and would be terminated due to this uncertainty. In a statement, the companies acknowledged that it was unlikely that the project would have enough subscriptions to continue deployment. It is now unclear whether NuScale will be able to build any commercial reactors before the end of the decade.