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.
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.
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.
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 median construction time of the nuclear reactors in operation in 2020 was seven years, and the industry has a terrible track record of cost overruns." The next nuclear plant to become operational in the U.S., Plant Vogtle in Georgia, will cost over $34 billion, about $15.3 million per megawatt.
Safety shortcuts taken by the industry, lax regulation of day-to-day safety practices at the plants, assurances provided without proof... A deep dive into the history of the safety risks. "The fact that nuclear power has fallen on its face when it is needed most is a hint that it is not the key to world energy security."
As the small modular nuclear industry explores more markets for its product, local concerns arise. The heavy use of water from lakes and rivers increasingly challenged by the warming climate. The threat of severe accidents. Radioactive waste. And uncompetitive costs born by families. Dr. Maureen McCue, a practicing primary care physician and Dr. M. V. Ramana from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada weigh in.
The founder of the conservative Wyoming Liberty Group expresses their areas of concern around development of a nuclear plant in the state. "In June of 2021 Natrium’s demonstration project rode into Wyoming with a 'new' idea and promises of jobs, subsidies, promises of subsidies and talk of economic prosperity. The horse has a pretty color, but can it run? What’s the price?" ... "Roughly, if a monthly household electric bill were $85 for natural gas energy, the bill would be about $255 for nuclear reactor energy."
“Our results show that most small modular reactor designs will actually increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal, by factors of 2 to 30.... These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”
After officials of Pueblo, Colorado invited Oregon-based NuScale to give a presentation on how its small modular reactors could replace the Comanche Generating Station, the largest coal power plant in the state, many Puebloans criticized the county in local newspapers. The city has now refocused on its commitment to looking at all potential replacement technologies to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
The independent Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) finds that the NuScale project will cost far more than the company claims, take much longer to build, and pose serious financial risks for the members of the Utah Associated Municipal Power System (UAMPS) and other municipalities and utilities that sign up for the project’s power.
Electricity from a new nuclear plant today is estimated to cost four times more than power from new wind and solar facilities. Countries look to public money to fund these new small modular nuclear projects because private financiers are unwilling to risk investing in production lines and reactors that could prove uneconomic.
While renewables costs have dropped 90% over the last decade, nuclear costs have risen 33% say Brigham Young University researchers and other authors in a recent report. With increased cost and development delays, new “next-generation” nuclear plants won’t be completed for 10 to 20 years, the report notes, and even then nuclear costs are expected to be at least double what renewables are today.
A new report from Taxpayers for Commonsense explains how the UAMPS/NuScale project contributes to a long history of taxpayer money down the drain for nuclear projects, finding that “ever-increasing subsidies cannot solve the nuclear energy industry’s costly flaws.”
As wind and solar become so much cheaper and faster to power lives and economies, myths are propagated against them designed to bolster options like nuclear. In fact, the authors point out, nuclear plants are regularly and often out of action and nuclear plant interruptions have become seven times more frequent in the past decade as a result of climate and weather-related factors.