The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Portland-based NuScale Power's small modular reactor Friday, Sept. 3.
NuScale was born out of Oregon State University in Corvallis in 2007.
"This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire U.S. nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow," said NuScale Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins in a statement.
The small reactors can produce about 60 megawatts of energy, or enough to power more than 50,000 homes. NuScale says the reactors have advanced safety features, including self-cooling and automatic shutdown. The modules — each capable of producing 60 megawatts of energy, which is enough to power 45,000 homes — also allow a plant to scale up as needed, with a maximum capacity of 12 modules for a total of 720 megawatts.
A Utah energy cooperative, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, plans to build 12 of them at a U.S. Department of Energy site in eastern Idaho in 2029 and 2030. The site contains the nuclear research facility called the Idaho National Laboratory.
The Department of Energy has spent more than $400 million since 2014 on small modular reactors (SMRs).
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval of the design means the agency is satisfied NuScale's SMRs will work properly.
"DOE is proud to support the licensing and development of NuScale's power module and other SMR technologies that have the potential to bring clean and reliable power to areas never thought possible by nuclear reactors in the U.S., and soon the world," said Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for nuclear energy.
Traditional reactors also require electricity and a second water source to secure the reactors in case of a shutdown. NuScale's modules sit completely immersed in water. This cools the reactor cores and rods in the case of an emergency, preventing melt down.
"It doesn't need power to make the safety systems work," Ross Snuggerud, a NuScale plant operations supervisor, told the Business Tribune in 2019. "It shuts down and self-cools indefinitely, without the need for operator intervention."
NuScale's modular reactors use less water than traditional reactors. They have a passive safety system so they shut down without human action should something go wrong.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's is trying to phase out the 95 licensed commercial nuclear reactors operating in the U.S, which produce 20% of the nation's energy.
NuScale's first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, also is looking to bring on other utilities that would use the power generated by the reactors.
For its Carbon Free Power Project, UAMPS aims to supply carbon-free energy to its nearly 50 members, mostly municipalities, in six Western states. The utilities could sell any electricity they don't use on the open market.
The co-op will apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a construction and operating license, which will take about two years.
Idaho is no coincidence. The technology behind NuScale's reactor design can be traced back to 2000, when the U.S. Department of Energy provided money for research into the development of a small nuclear power plant model that could be used for multiple purposes. The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory led the research project, with support from a team at Oregon State University that included professor Jose Reyes.
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