Nov 9, 2023 - Technology

A setback for small nuclear reactors as Idaho plan scrapped

Illustration of a question mark with an atom as the dot.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The big question now is whether the demise of an Idaho nuclear plan is a momentary bummer for next-wave small reactors — or a really bad omen.

Driving the news: NuScale, a developer of small modular reactors (SMRs), said a project with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) won't happen.

  • It's "unlikely that the project will have enough subscription to continue toward deployment," they said Wednesday, calling the decision mutual.

Why it matters: While it's just one project, it's a reality check nonetheless. There are big hurdles facing SMRs, despite strong interest as a climate-friendly power and industrial heat source.

The big picture: Inflation pushed up the price tag of the plant that was targeted to start operations in 2029.

  • The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, citing UAMPS filings, reported in January that the target power price soared 53% since mid-2021.

Catch up fast: NuScale was first to win Nuclear Regulatory Commission design approval for an SMR.

  • Per Bloomberg, SMR backers hoped it would be the first U.S. project to enter operation.

State of play: NuScale's Q3 earnings deck projects optimism about other plans in the pipeline.

  • But its share price dropped 30% in after-hours trading following the announcement.
  • The Energy Department had provided $232 million for the project since October 2020.

What we're watching: An agency spokesperson said the work will be valuable in the future, adding:

  • "While not every project is guaranteed to succeed, DOE remains committed to doing everything we can to deploy these technologies to combat the climate crisis and increase access to clean energy."
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