Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Will Soon Face a Moment of Reckoning

04 Mar, 2019

Last year’s first-ever small modular reactor design approval could usher in a new era for nuclear power.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) phase 1 review approval of a small nuclear reactor (SMR) design from Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power means the technology now has a realistic chance of being up and running within a decade.

In a press release, NuScale said its first operational products, for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), could be hooked up to the grid “by the mid-2020s,” while Bloomberg reported that the company was aiming for commercial operations in 2026.

When it goes live, the UAMPS plant could be the definitive test of whether nuclear has a future in many Western economies. That means the UAMPS project, which is set to have a dozen 50-megawatt (600 megawatt) NuScale SMR modules, will have to buck recent nuclear new-build trends by coming in on time and on budget.

And, critically, it will have to be competitive with other generation sources being built eight years from now. The estimated overnight cost for the UAMPS project was $2.9 billion ($48.5 per megawatt-hour), and its target levelized cost of energy (LCOE) was $65 per megawatt-hour.

For comparison, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that onshore wind will be hitting an LCOE of $50 per megawatt-hour and solar will be at $60 per megawatt-hour.

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