Carbon Free Power Project
Idaho National Laboratory learned on Nov. 8, 2023, that the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and NuScale Power Corporation (NuScale) have mutually agreed to terminate the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP). This project called for the construction of a NuScale Power small modular reactor power plant on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) INL Site. As these organizations decide on the next steps for the project, we remain hopeful about the future of the many other advanced reactor projects INL is involved in.
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.
- 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.
A location has not yet been selected, but several preferred sites have been identified and are being studied further.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.