Look before you leap on nuclear power.

Towns, taxpayers and electricity ratepayers are being courted to pay for a new “small modular reactor" (SMR) nuclear plant, slated for the end of the decade near Idaho Falls. Understand the risks you face if the nuclear industry comes calling.

Should your community sign up if SMR nuclear approaches you?

The Utah Taxpayers Association strongly recommends buyers say “no” to the Idaho Falls nuclear project, and some cities that committed initially have backed out.

“Every nuclear project since the 1970s has had cost overruns, and the multitude fail, ultimately burdening rate- and taxpayers, and sometimes bankrupting municipalities.” 

— Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, Herald Journal 

Story of a Struggling Project

Our timeline picks up in 2015, when NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) launched their plan for an SMR plant in Idaho Falls, and UAMPS set out to raise money for the venture from towns in the West.

2018

The first cost hike

July 2020

Second cost hike, and a delay

August 2020

Signups are lagging

October 2020

Cities back out

“The risk that’s going to come is going to be on us, on the cities. And I just feel really, really uncomfortable moving forward….It just seems scary.” 

— Katie Koivisto, Lehi, UT city council, Daily Herald
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Financial Risks

The small modular nuclear plant planned by NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is an untested nuclear reactor, so there's risk it will follow the usual history of nuclear project cost overruns, delays, and failures. The private financial sector has not stepped forward to pay for it. Neither have large investor-owned utilities. That leaves backers looking to put the financial risk on smaller utilities and towns.

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Escalating Costs

The UAMPS/NuScale nuclear plant in Idaho Falls is following the same trajectory of rising costs that has plagued most nuclear projects in America. Total project cost estimates started at $3.1 billion in 2015, rose to $4.2 billion in 2017, and then to $6.1 billion in 2020—and that’s all before construction has even begun. UAMPS’ estimates of the power purchase price have gone up as well.

“At this point modular nuclear power is a venture, not a product. So let private venture capital come in and pay for it, not Utah taxpayers.”

— Rusty Cannon, President of the Utah Taxpayers Association, Deseret News
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Uncertainty & Secrecy

A number of details of the UAMPS/NuScale nuclear project have changed over time, and been kept from public view. The construction timeline has been delayed by years. UAMPS refuses to disclose how it arrives at its price estimates, and has hidden key developments like Energy Northwest’s withdrawal as plant operator. Often, UAMPS meetings with local officials on the project are held behind closed doors.

"The more I listened to the people who are in charge, the less confidence I have in it.”

— Rich Anderson,Logan, UT, Finance Director, Herald Journal
Risks

More market problems and delay loom for small nuclear

With the need for the development of a different form of uranium in order to function—and no supply chain in place—most of the new proposed smaller reactors face significant delay and fundamental challenge to their commercial viability. 

Risks

Utah cities shouldn’t gamble on nuclear power

The president of Utah Taxpayers Association makes the case that small nuclear reactors are a shaky investment for Utah’s municipalities because of rising costs and a process which involves the public’s money that has been less than transparent.

Risks

Small nuclear reactor advocates refuse to learn the lessons of the past

TFIE Strategy’s Michael Barnard explains that most of the small modular nuclear reactor innovations being touted as the new really aren’t. “In the seven decades since the first SMR was commissioned, 57 different designs and concepts have been designed, developed and, rarely, built,” he notes. The article explores concerns with SMR economics, security, decommissioning and more.

New Nuclear?
Same Problems.

Cost overruns, delays, cancellations

News & Resources

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