Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
With projected costs leaping from a 2017 estimate of $3.6 billion, to $4.2 billion in Nov. 2019, and reaching $6.1 billion last July, municipal investment in a Utah scheme to build the nation’s first so-called small modular reactors (SMRs) is starting to dry up.
To date, Logan, Utah and Lehi City have quit the project, and Bountiful, Utah’s power department says the chances are greater than 50-50 that it too will withdraw.
“[I]f we can’t bring this power in at a competitive price we just won’t build this project,” said LaVarr Webb, a spokesperson for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), Reuters reported. UAMPS is the Utah state agency that delivers electricity to member cities in six western states. Webb told the Washington Examiner he expected other members could decide to leave too.
The experimental reactor venture is being built at the Idaho National Laboratory. UAMPS is partnered with dozens of regional cities, the companies NuScale, Fluor, and Worldwide Construction, and the US Dept. of Energy. The plan is to build the first of 12 small modular reactors by 2029. Cities including Brigham City, Hyrum, Logan and Lehi joined the effort to subsidize some of the development costs for the first SMR, which is being engineered to produce 60 megawatts.
A major financial shock was the Energy Department reneging on its promise to provide $1.4 billion for the first reactor, the Cache Valley Daily reported. Then in early August, the Utah Taxpayer’s Association issued a scathing report urging all the municipalities to quit the project citing cost overruns, construction delays, and “dependence on unpredictable federal subsidies.”
Edwin Lyman, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Director of Nuclear Power Safety, told Reuters, “the only hope for the UAMPS project, or any other of these first-of-a-kind projects, is that the Department of Energy will end up financing it.”