What is the Carbon Free Power Project?

December 20, 2018

By Idaho National Laboratory

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) formally launched the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) in 2015 as part of its long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions and replace aging coal-fired plants with a nonfossil fuel, and medium-sized, flexible power generating source.

The project calls for constructing a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) power plant on DOE’s 890-square-mile Idaho Site using a SMR technology being developed by NuScale Power. The proposed SMR plant would have 12, 60-megawatt modules that could generate 720 megawatts of clean electricity (if operating at 100 percent capacity) in a relatively small footprint. If approved, the plant is expected to be fully operational by 2027.

The scalable and modular nature of the Carbon Free Power Project would help UAMPS meet its objectives to embrace distributed generation, including rooftop solar, and to reduce electricity demand through efficiency and conservation measures.

Which entities are involved in the project and what is their role?

  • Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) was established in 1980 and is an energy services interlocal of the state of Utah. UAMPS is a project-based organization that provides a variety of power supply, transmission and other services to its 46 members, which include public power utilities in six western states: Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. UAMPS has proposed building a 12-module, 720-megawatt NuScale SMR plant on the Idaho desert to provide a source of reliable, clean electricity to its members.
  • NuScale Power is an Oregon-based company developing the 12-module small modular reactor plant that would be built on the Idaho desert as part of the Carbon Free Power Project. The NuScale SMR is the first to begin the process of getting Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to build a small modular reactor in the U.S. The NuScale reactor is essentially a smaller, more configurable version of the 99 nuclear reactors currently providing the U.S. with nearly 60 percent of its clean, carbon-free electricity.
  • U.S. Department of Energy is the federal agency responsible for implementing energy policy in the U.S., including research and development related to nuclear energy. DOE owns the 890-square-mile complex west of Idaho Falls. DOE’s Idaho Site houses Idaho National Laboratory’s research facilities; the Idaho Cleanup Project’s legacy waste cleanup operations; and the Defense Department’s Naval Reactors Facility. The DOE Idaho Operations Office manages the process for siting the SMR project on its land.
  • Idaho National Laboratory is part of the DOE national laboratory complex and is the nation’s lead facility for nuclear energy research. INL experts helped select the DOE location on which UAMPS has proposed building the SMR plant using the NuScale technology. INL also is assisting with other technical aspects of the project, including modeling and simulation of SMR components and systems. INL and DOE recently established the Joint Use Modular Plant (JUMP) program to conduct research and demonstrate safe, secure and resilient microgrid systems. INL leads DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program that makes assets of DOE’s national labs available to assist industry in bringing nuclear energy technology to market, to help provide the nation with clean, reliable, nuclear energy.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an independent agency created by Congress to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of radioactive materials, such as nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and enforcement of its requirements. The Carbon Free Power Project must undergo extensive NRC safety and licensing reviews before it can be built on the Idaho desert.
  • Energy Northwest is a Washington state public power agency that owns and operates a diverse mix of clean energy resources, including the Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility in Richland. Energy Northwest has the option to operate the Carbon Free Power Project for UAMPS if the plant is approved.
  • Fluor Corporation is a publicly traded engineering company and a major investor in the NuScale SMR commercialization efforts. Fluor also manages the Idaho Cleanup Project waste remediation work overseen by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management through the DOE-Idaho Operations Office.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors serving 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA is also pursuing an early site permit for small modular reactors at its Clinch River Nuclear site. UAMPS and TVA are planning to work together with DOE to develop the Standard Content portions of a Combined License Application (COLA). TVA would bring their vast nuclear power knowledge and experience to bear to help ensure a high-quality license application.

Is this project new? What is the status of the project?

The Carbon Free Power Project dates back to 2014 when UAMPS proposed building a small modular reactor on the INL Site using the NuScale Power SMR design. Here are some other key dates:

  • 2015 – DOE awards $16.7 million to NuScale for the preparation of a combined construction and operating license for the UAMPS project. Thirty-two of UAMPS’ 45 members elected to participate in the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP).
  • 2016 – NuScale asks the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve the company’s SMR commercial power plant design.
  • 2017 – INL, UAMPS and NuScale propose DOE reserve or purchase two of the 12 SMR modules for research and commercial demonstration of grid and hybrid energy test/pilot-scale programs.
  • April 2018 – NRC completes the first and most intensive phase of review for NuScale Power’s design certification application. It is the first SMR application to undergo review and represents a major step forward for this new class of nuclear technology.
  • December 2018 – The Department of Energy, UAMPS and Battelle Energy Alliance sign a Memorandum of Understanding that allocates one of the SMR modules for research and development for the JUMP program and to explore a power purchase agreement to provide electricity to meet INL’s power needs.
  • 2018-2019 – UAMPS members vote on whether to finance and/or back the Carbon Free Power Project.

Where on the INL Site would the power plant be located?

A location has not yet been selected, but several preferred sites have been identified and are being studied further.

Why the INL Site? Why not somewhere else?

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations require that a number of locations be considered for siting a nuclear power plant. That process is still underway. The INL Site provides a number of advantages. INL is part of the DOE’s complex of national laboratories and its primary mission is the development and demonstration of advanced nuclear technologies. INL has immense experience with nuclear reactors; more than 50 research, test and demonstration nuclear reactors have been constructed and operated on the 890-square-mile INL Site over the past 70 years to support the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program and the U.S. civilian nuclear power program.

INL has produced environmental data over many years that will be useful to the applicant in preparing the required environmental documentation necessary to meet an NRC licensing application. Having the site so well-characterized may ultimately allow UAMPS to realize a cost savings to its members and their customers over having to produce the data from scratch. The site also has excellent access to major transmission lines for electricity distribution.

Why is UAMPS interested in deploying an SMR in Idaho?

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is a joint-action governmental agency (a political subdivision of the state of Utah) that provides comprehensive energy services to its 46 community-owned power system members throughout the Intermountain West. Through its SmartEnergy initiative, UAMPS constantly assesses and forecasts future electrical energy needs of member utilities. To meet those needs, UAMPS investigates and operates a variety of energy sources, including alternative resources such as wind and solar, along with increased conservation and efficiency.

Because major projects require years to plan, construct and bring online, decisions must be made today to ensure adequate supplies a decade from now for an energy-hungry society featuring electric vehicles and myriad mobile digital devices.

After much sophisticated resource planning and hard-nosed analysis, UAMPS member utilities have concluded that once certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the NuScale small modular reactor technology would provide the best solution for clean, safe, reliable, long-term and flexible supply. UAMPS coal properties have been workhorses for decades, but they are reaching the end of their life cycles, and must be replaced with carbon-free supply. Nuclear energy is attractive because it emits no carbon or pollutants and produces massive amounts of reliable, stable energy, decade after decade.

Idaho Falls Power is a member of UAMPS, so a site in Idaho quickly became a top prospect as various sites were considered.

Is DOE paying for the construction and operation of an SMR on the INL Site?

No. The UAMPS SMR project is a commercial enterprise that would be located within the boundaries of the INL Site. While the DOE has supported the site selection and license application preparation as part of its SMR Licensing Technical Support siting studies, the DOE is not paying for the construction, operation or ultimate decommissioning of the potential SMR.

Is the SMR on the INL Site a DOE-sponsored project?

The UAMPS SMR project is a commercial enterprise located within the boundaries of the INL Site. DOE would not be financially supporting the construction, operation and ultimate decommissioning of the potential SMR.

However, DOE is supporting the project through a cost-shared cooperative agreement with UAMPS for the site selection and license application preparation for the Carbon Free Power Project as part of the SMR Licensing Technical Support program.

Why would DOE let a commercial company build a reactor at the INL Site?

DOE and its predecessors have a long history of supporting the development of safe, economical nuclear power. The Department continues to foster innovation such as utilizing energy from new small modular nuclear reactor technologies, and considers it a way to commit to using clean energy, reducing spending, and strengthening the communities in which federal facilities operate. This project further promotes the Department’s commitment to the accelerated deployment of SMRs. DOE is working with other federal agencies, U.S. businesses and universities to support safe, efficient technologies that will revitalize the nation’s nuclear industry.

What is the approval process for this project? Who would be the regulator?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would be the lead regulatory agency overseeing a full safety and environmental review of any license application as well as the preparation of a Safety Evaluation Report and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS would analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed project which DOE would use to decide whether to allow the project on the INL Site. Construction and operation of an SMR would be under NRC licensing and inspection regulations; the Department would not oversee or regulate this project or the workers that perform any phase of it.

Would this/these facilities provide power for the grid? Would this power remain for use in Idaho, or would it be exported?

Yes, these facilities would provide power to the grid. It is anticipated electricity produced at the site would be used by UAMPS members in several western states, including Idaho, Nevada, Utah and California.

What is in it for UAMPS members and Idaho citizens? Would Idaho citizens realize power cost savings as a result of an SMR being built in Idaho?

It is anticipated electricity produced at the site would be used by UAMPS members, including Idaho Falls Power, in several western states. The project would further diversify power supply for UAMPS members and provide stable, clean, long-term, carbon-free and cost-effective electricity. The price would be competitive with the price of other sources of power. It would also replace electricity produced by existing coal-fired power plants as they are retired.

Moreover, the CFPP would be a source of jobs during project construction and throughout its operation, which is expected to last about 60 years. The CFPP construction project would involve more than 1,000 construction workers at the site. During plant operations, the CFPP is expected to employ about 360 full-time staff.

Who has final say on a site selection?

With issuance of a Combined Operating License, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the final approval of the site selection. However, DOE would have to have concurred on that location prior to NRC’s determination. If UAMPS identifies a suitable area within the INL Site boundary for development of the CFPP, and if the Energy Department determines that the use of such site would not conflict with Idaho National Laboratory mission work, the use of the CFPP site would be an NRC-licensed activity. All NRC laws, rules and regulations would apply to the ultimate siting, constructing, operating and decommissioning of the CFPP, including a full NRC-led environmental review consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Would the proposed power plant produce waste?

Yes, it would produce some waste. Used fuel would be stored on site, as is the case with the other 98 nuclear power plants in the United States. On-site storage is safe indefinitely, but the federal government continues to work on siting and developing a national repository for spent nuclear fuel. On-site storage would fully comply with all NRC commercial storage requirements.

Would the proposed plant use water? If so, how much?

Yes, the SMR power plant would require water to produce the steam needed to generate electricity, and potentially to cool the reactors but how much will be determined by the final design. UAMPS has commissioned Power Engineers, a private company, to conduct a study on three different cooling options – water-cooled; dry- or air-cooled; or a combination of wet and dry cooling. NuScale offers different cooling options so that its technology can be used in places where water is scarce.

NuScale estimates its water-cooled plants would consume approximately 740 gallons per megawatt hour, which is consistent with the existing U.S. nuclear fleet as well as coal-fired, oil-fired, gas-fired, solar-thermal and biofuel-fired plants. (The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found large-scale nuclear and thermoelectric plants use between 600 and 800 gallons of water per megawatt hour when relying on wet cooling towers in nominal conditions.)

However, even if UAMPS opts for the wet cooling design, the proposed SMR plant would consume less water annually than a large nuclear power plant simply because of its smaller power output. Most nuclear power plants in the U.S. generate 1,000-plus megawatts of electricity. The proposed Carbon Free Power Project is a 720-megawatt plant.

What happens if the electrical grid goes down? Would that affect operations of the SMR plant?

The NuScale SMR technology is designed to have black start capability, which means it can start up from cold conditions without external grid connections.




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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted December 20, 2018

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