We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they?

We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they?

We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they?

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“It’s a big deal and should be celebrated as a milestone,” Buongiorno said. However, he says, minimizing what is yet to come would be a mistake: “Nothing is easy and nothing is quick when it comes to NRC.


There’s an additional wrinkle: NuScale wants to tweak its reactor modules. While the company was going through the lengthy regulatory process, researchers were still working on the reactor design. During the bidding and planning process, the company discovered that its reactors could achieve better performance.

“We discovered that we could actually produce more power with the same reactor, of the exact same size,” says Jose Reyes, co-founder and chief technology officer at NuScale. Instead of 50 MW, the company found that each module could produce 77 MW.

So the company changed course. For its first power plant, to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory, NuScale plans to consolidate six of the largest reactors, bringing the plant’s capacity to a total of 462 MW.

The improved power rating requires some tweaking, but the module design is basically the same. Still, that means the company had to resubmit updated plans to the NRC, which it did last month. It could take up to two years before the amended plans are approved by the agency and the company can move on to site approval, Reyes says.

The long way to go

In 2017, NuScale planned to operate its first power plant in Idaho and produce electricity for the grid by 2026. This schedule has been pushed back to 2029.

Meanwhile, costs are higher than at the start of the regulatory process. In January, NuScale announced that its projected price for power from the Idaho plant project had increased from $58 per megawatt-hour to $89. That’s more expensive than most other sources of electricity today, including solar and wind power and most natural gas-fired power plants.

Price increases would be even higher without substantial federal investment. The Department of Energy has already invested more than $1 billion in the project, and the Cut Inflation Act passed last year provides credits of $30/MWh for nuclear power plants.


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