A project to revive nuclear power by demonstrating the viability of small, factory-built reactors has a problem: At least two cities that agreed to participate have pulled out and others may join them before a Sept. 30 deadline.
The defections from the group of 35 that had signed up spell trouble for Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power LLC, which is developing the modular reactors with hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Energy Department.
Small reactors have been billed as a way to revive the nuclear industry, which, despite being carbon-free, has been struggling amid high costs and competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. The reactors, some as small as a single-family house, are faster and less costly to build than conventional ones because they can be constructed in a factory and shipped out.
The fact the project is experiencing defections could indicate trouble for the nuclear industry writ large, said Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It tells you the future is dark,” Bradford said in a phone interview. “The nuclear renaissance was built on a promise that those designs would be modularized and that these advanced designs would be the wave of the future.”
The project was originally supposed to begin producing electricity in 2026. Since then, completion has been pushed back to 2030 and the cost has doubled to $6.1 billion. Only 213 megawatts of the project’s 720 megawatts have been committed, according to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, the public power consortium whose members are participating in the project.
Cities have until Wednesday to pull out, but already two Utah cities — Logan and Lehi — have, despite losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, with city officials saying the project was too risky for them to continue.
A third city, Bountiful, Utah, has said they are weighing whether to pull out as well.