“This is a big deal and should be celebrated as an important milestone,” Buongiorno says. However, he says, it would be a mistake to minimize what lies ahead: “Nothing is easy and nothing is quick when it comes to the NRC.”
There’s an added wrinkle: NuScale wants to customize its reactor modules. While the company was going through a lengthy regulatory process, researchers were still working on the reactor design. During the bidding and planning process, the company discovered that its reactors could achieve better performance.
“We found that we can actually produce more energy with the same reactor, the same size,” says Jose Reyes, co-founder and chief technology officer of NuScale. Instead of 50 MW, the company found that each module could produce 77 MW.
So the company changed course. For its first power plant to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory, NuScale plans to combine six larger reactors together, giving the plant a total capacity of 462 MW.
The updated power requires some adjustments, but the module design is basically the same. However, that meant the company had to resubmit updated plans to the NRC, which it did last month. Reyes says it could be up to two years before the agency approves the revised plans and the company can move forward with site approval.
There is a long road ahead
Back in 2017, NuScale planned to launch its first power plant in Idaho and generate electricity for the grid by 2026. This schedule has been moved to 2029.
Meanwhile, costs are higher than when the regulatory process first began. In January, NuScale announced that the planned price for electricity from the Idaho power plant project had risen from $58 per megawatt hour to $89. That’s more expensive than most other sources of electricity today, including solar and wind and most natural gas-fired plants.
Price increases would have been even higher if not for significant federal investment. The Department of Energy has already spent more than $1 billion on the project, and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year, provides for nuclear power credits of $30 per MWh.