De-risking the UAMPS project and uprating the NuScale module

5 March 2021

Big steps for small reactors in the USA

Recent months have seen some positive developments for the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), a planned 12-module nuclear facility employing NuScale’s SMR technology to be located at a site within the Idaho National Laboratory.

The project developer is UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems), “a political subdivision of the State of Utah”, which supplies wholesale power, transmission, and other energy services, on a non-profit basis, to community- owned power providers throughout the Intermountain West, with members located in California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming, as well as Utah.

It points to three key contracts it has signed, with the US Department of Energy, NuScale and Fluor, respectively, that “significantly de-risk the project for participants and propel it into the next phase.’’

Most notable is that signed with US DOE which provides for a multi-year cost- share award contributing $1.355 billion towards development and construction of the facility. This amounts to about one- fourth of the entire cost of the project.

Much of the funding will be provided in the project’s early phases, substantially reducing the early-stage obligations of participants, with the award serving “as a funding vehicle to advance the CFPP as funds are appropriated by Congress.”

US DOE says the funding is expected to help ensure that the levelised cost of energy target price of $55/MWh “can be achieved at a level of risk UAMPS can manage.” That price is said to make the CFPP competitive with other non-intermittent dispatchable energy sources like combined cycle natural gas plants, but “without greenhouse gas emissions.” It will ensure long-term affordable energy to UAMPS member participants while avoiding exposure to greenhouse regulation and compliance costs.

“We appreciate this tremendous vote of confidence in CFPP by the Department of Energy,” said Douglas Hunter, UAMPS CEO & general manager. “It is entirely appropriate for DOE to help de-risk this first-of-a-kind, next-generation nuclear project. This is a great example of a partnership with DOE to lower the cost of introduction of transformative advanced nuclear technology that will provide affordable, carbon-free electricity all over the country and the world. This project is much bigger than UAMPS itself.”

UAMPS members are especially supportive of the project because it will complement and support additional intermittent renewables.

“It’s pretty clear that our coal assets aren’t going to be allowed to run forever and that we’ll need to replace them”, Hunter says. “If we end up with policies that discourage carbon dioxide emissions, as already exist in Europe and parts of the United States, then natural gas isn’t going to be cheap any more. Solar and wind will play a big role in our energy future, but it’s clear those can’t do the job alone. One of the reasons cited recently for California’s rolling blackouts was that solar farms weren’t producing as had been expected. As we push toward 100% emissions-free electricity, our system will be more vulnerable to weather fluctuations. We’re going to need emissions-free energy that is “dispatchable” — that is, that shows up when ordered.”

The agreement between UAMPS and NuScale covers development cost reimbursement, and aims to ensure that UAMPS will be reimbursed for development costs in the early phases of the project if cost projections do not meet target levels, or if the project is terminated for causes outlined in the agreement. This means “participant investments are not at risk until the project is far enough along to be substantially de-risked”, says UAMPS.

The agreement between UAMPS and Fluor (which is NuScale’s majority shareholder) confirms Fluor as EPC contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory project. “With Fluor on board, more detailed engineering and construction design and plans can be developed, further refining costs and the timeline”, says UAMPS.

As the project has been de-risked with these three agreements, interest has grown substantially among a number of utilities outside UAMPS that have been watching the project, UAMPS notes.

The next phase of the project, says UAMPS, will include development of an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a licence to construct and operate the plant (COL) and “as this process proceeds, additional utilities are expected to join the project.”

The NuScale reactor, a scaled down passively safe PWR with natural circulation cooling, has already completed an NRC design certification, and received a Final Safety Evaluation Report and a Standard Design Approval, the first ever for a small modular reactor (see MPS, September 2020, p29).

Module power increase

A further positive development is that NuScale has recently concluded that its technology can generate an additional 25% more power per module than earlier estimates, and is capable of 77 MWe per module (gross), resulting in about 924 MWe for the “flagship” 12-module power plant, as proposed for the UAMPS project. This lowers the overnight per kW capital cost from an expected $3600 to about $2850.

Additionally, NuScale has announced options for smaller power plants, 308 MWe (four modules) and 462 MWe (six modules).

The power uprate will be the subject of a further Standard Design Approval application, which NuScale is scheduled to submit to the NRC in 2022.

NuScale says “it will be able to deliver its first module to a client in 2027.”

NuScale module, showing natural circulation of reactor coolant

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