The Idaho Falls area is moving closer to being the center of the “new nuclear” universe as progress continues on developing the world’s first Small Modular Reactor (SMR) project, to be possibly located at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory property near Idaho Falls.

And Idaho state and local officials are warmly embracing the possibility of a small nuclear energy plant being built in southeastern Idaho.  

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Jeffrey Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, both spoke last week at NuEx, a nuclear energy conference in Corvallis, Oregon, sponsored by NuScale Power, the world’s leading developer of SMR technology. Casper said Idaho Falls is ready, willing and excited to build the world’s most advanced nuclear plant using NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor technology.

According to NuScale, construction of the project would provide about 1,100 jobs for three years. The facility would provide about 360 permanent jobs, with an average salary of $85,000. It would also support and strengthen the mission of INL, which is the area’s biggest employer.

If constructed, the project would be owned by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), and would be operated by Energy Northwest, which operates a more traditional nuclear power plant in Washington State. Idaho Falls is a member of UAMPS. Casper said Idaho Falls is excited to embrace the project, which also has strong support from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, and other state and local leaders.

She said Idaho’s collaborative approach to big projects will help the project succeed. The Idaho Falls area has the resources, expertise and employees needed for the project. “These things are very hard, but certainly doable,” she said. “This will add to Idaho’s strong tradition with nuclear energy.”

Sayer said he’s a “huge fan” of NuScale and the firm’s technology, science and commitment. “I believe strongly in the nuclear industry. We’re working very hard to advance nuclear energy in Idaho. We have strong statewide support. Our universities and manufacturers will all benefit. And we want Idaho National Laboratory to flourish.”

A number of speakers at the conference said SMRs are game changers, a disruptive technology. SMRs were touted as cleaner and safer than any other energy source. The small modular reactors are completely emissions-free, and are scalable to fit the energy needs of smaller communities. SMR technology and the UAMPS project are strongly supported by the Obama administration’s Department of Energy, which is making available significant grant money to perfect the technology and apply for necessary permits.

A number of speakers at the conference, including energy experts, futurists, environmentalists and business leaders all said nuclear energy is absolutely necessary to replace old coal plants and provide clean, emissions-free energy to developing countries so they can modernize and bring millions of people out of poverty.

While a traditional large reactor plant will produce more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, a small modular reactor produces only 50 megawatts. The modules are built in a factory and shipped to the site. Several small reactors can be installed together to produce as much electricity as necessary. The reactors use natural convection and water circulation so in an emergency the reactor would shut down and cool with no operator action, no AC or DC power, and no additional water. Analysts say they are dramatically safer, cheaper, and easier to manufacture than traditional nuclear plants.

SMRs were also touted to complement alternative energy sources like wind and solar, providing the “muscle” needed for grid stability, price stability, baseload supply, and sufficient electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.     

Doug Hunter, CEO & General Manager of UAMPS, said UAMPS decided to develop a Carbon Free Power Project, anchored by SMRs, to replace aging coal plants and to produce clean, emissions-free baseload electricity for the growing energy needs of members and customers. UAMPS members include a number of Utah municipalities with public power departments.

Hunter said the Carbon Free Power Project includes three elements: energy efficiency, which will slow the growth of energy needs; rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources; and the SMR project in Idaho to provide baseload supply.

“We couldn’t afford a big reactor,” Hunter said. “We saw the beauty and simplicity of the NuScale technology. This allows us to build as we need additional energy. We don’t have to overbuild or risk stranded investment.”