Nov 13, 2023 - Technology

Making sense of nuclear's bad day

NuScale Power Corp. share price
Data: Yahoo Finance ; Chart: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

It's easy to over-interpret the death of small modular reactor firm NuScale's Idaho project, but it nonetheless has lessons — and omens — for the future.

Catch up fast: Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale last week said there weren't enough buyers for the project's increasingly costly energy.

What they're saying: Energy analyst Todd Moss notes first-of-a-kind projects are always costly.

  • That's true even though SMRs promise standardized manufacturing to prevent huge cost overruns that bedevil traditional reactors.
  • "But getting to scale means getting over the early humps. This first hump proved too much," Moss, executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub, wrote on Substack.

The intrigue: Bloomberg's Liam Denning writes that amid surging renewables and storage, the SMRs use case may narrow to industrial energy, with grid-focused output a lesser focus.

Threat level: NuScale has the only SMR design with Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval.

  • Nuclear critic Edwin Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the Idaho project's demise shows "broader challenges" for U.S. development.
  • It "does not bode well for the dozens of other, more exotic reactor types in various stages of development that are being touted as the next best thing."

Yes, but: Moss said a "vibrant nuclear ecosystem exists," citing the many startups and projects somewhere in the pipeline — and he's confident some will survive.

  • "[F]lexible nuclear power will still be attractive in some emerging markets," like Ghana, one of NuScale's target regions.
  • Third Way, working with Moss' group, tracks projects worldwide.
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