UAMPS and NuScale cancel plans to build SMRs at INL

14 November 2023

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and Oregon-based NuScale Power have mutually agreed to terminate the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP). The project envisaged construction of six small modular reactors (SMRs) at the US Department of Energy's (DOE’s) Idaho National Laboratory (INL). “Despite significant efforts by both parties to advance the CFPP, it appears unlikely that the project will have enough subscription to continue toward deployment.” A joint statement said. “Therefore, UAMPS and NuScale have mutually determined that ending the project is the most prudent decision for both parties.”

Since UAMPS announced its plan to develop the CFPP using NuScale SMRs in 2015, the parameters of the project have changed several times. In 2015, the plan was for 12 50MWe NuScale AMR modules for a plant that could produce a total of 600 MWe. This increased to 720MWe, when UAMPS opted to scale up to 60MWe modules. Subsequently, in 2021, UAMPS participants chose to build 77MWe modules but downsized the plant from 12 units to six, which would yield 462 MWe.

UAMPS, a political subdivision of the state of Utah established in 1980, is a consortium of cities in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada. As a project-based energy services entity, UAMPS provides a range of power supply, transmission, and other services to its 50 members, which include public power utilities in seven western states: Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. CFPP Partners include NuScale Power (developer of the nuclear power modules), Fluor Corporation (construction and licensing contractor), and DOE.

In late 2020, DOE awarded the cooperative $1.35bn over 10 years for the project, subject to congressional appropriations. CFPP at that time had 33 participants. The number has since fallen to 27.

In March this year, NuScale placed its first upper reactor pressure vessel (RPV) long lead material (LLM) production order with Doosan Enerbility intended for the CFPP. This was shortly after CFPP participants had agreed to continue the development and deployment of the project despite rising costs. In January, NuScale had said the target price for power from the plant would be $89 per MWh, a 53% increase on the previous estimate of $58 per MWh.

This had led to concerns that potential customers may be unwilling to pay so much for the power generated. UAMPS, nevertheless, approved the budget and finance plan with 26 of its 27 members supporting it. The CFPP was then expected to begin operation in 2030.

However, January also saw the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issue its final rule certifying NuScale’s SMR design, making it the first SMR to be certified by the agency. In July, CFPP applied to NRC for a Limited Work Authorisation (LWA), requesting approval to start early construction activities before receiving a Combined Licence (COLA). The LWA application was the first part of the project’s COLA, with submission of the second part planned for January 2024. NRC in September docketed CFPP’s application for a LWA, setting set an end date for review of August 2025.

NuScale Power was the first SMR developer to undergo a business combination to progress commercialisation of its technology. In May 2022, it had merged with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp to create the world's first publicly traded SMR technology provider.

However, earlier this month, the company came under pressure after a lengthy report by Iceberg Research entitled “NuScale Power ($SMR): A fake customer and a major contract in peril cast doubt on NuScale’s viability”. Iceberg alleged that NuScale had sold 24 reactors to a “fake customer”. This referenced a deal NuScale had announced in October to supply Standard Power with 1,848 MWe of power provided by 24 SMRs to power two US data centre sites. Iceberg predicted that Standard Power would be unable to support the contract. NuScale, in response said the Iceberg allegations were “riddled with speculative statements with no basis in fact and demonstrates a limited understanding of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) and the nuclear power industry.”

NuScale President & CEO John Hopkins, commenting on the cancellation of the CFPP noted that through the company’s work with UAMPS and partnership with DOE, it had “advanced our NuScale Power Modules to the point that utilities, governments and industrials can rely on a proven small modular reactor (SMR) technology that has regulatory approval and is in active production”.

He added: “Our work with CFPP over the past ten years has advanced NuScale technology to the stage of commercial deployment; reaching that milestone is a tremendous success which we will continue to build on with future customers. NuScale will continue with our other domestic and international customers to bring our American SMR technology to market and grow the US nuclear manufacturing base, creating jobs across the US."

UAMPS CEO & General Manager Mason Baker said: "This decision is very disappointing given the years of pioneering hard work put into the CFPP by UAMPS, CFPP LLC, NuScale, US Department of Energy, and the UAMPS member communities that took the leadership role to launch the CFPP. Yet, this decision is the best course for the UAMPS members participating in the CFPP and doing what is best for those member communities will always be the guiding light in such decisions.”

He added: “We have learned many invaluable lessons during the development of the CFPP that we will carry forward in future development work to meet the future energy needs of the UAMPS member communities. We look forward to continuing to provide innovative and cost-effective new resource solutions to our members, and, at the same time, we hope NuScale is successful in deploying its technology." NuScale’s share price fell by over 40% on the news of the cancellation.

DOE had provided $232m for the UAMPS project since October 2020. A DOE 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."

The collapse of the project is raising questions in other countries with SMR plans. Commenting on the situation, Canada-based The Energy Mix said.

The failure of the US project “is shining a light on public subsidies that might keep similar technology under development in Canada, even if it’s prone to the same cost overruns that scuttled NuScale Power Corporation’s Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) in Utah”.

The publication quoted Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, as saying: “Private investors in Utah forced NuScale to divulge financial information regarding the cost of electricity from its proposed nuclear plant,” and “cost became the deal-breaker”. He added: “Publicly-owned utilities in Canada are not similarly accountable. The public has little opportunity to ‘hold their feet to the fire’ and determine just how much electricity is going to cost, coming from these first-of-a-kind new nuclear reactors.”

Similarly, Romanian Insider noted: “The small nuclear reactor (SMR) technology and the SMR project in Romania came under scrutiny after NuScale dropped one of his projects in the US because of the excessive costs that increased by 53% and made it economically inefficient.” In Romania, NuScale is developing a similar SMR project at Doicesti. NuScale now has four projects under development in the US, one in Canada, three in Asia, one in the Middle East and three in Europe (Poland, Bulgaria and Romania).

Image: Illustration of the six-module Carbon Free Power Project planned for construction in Idaho (courtesy of NuScale)

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