We were promised smaller nuclear reactors. Where are they?

“It is a big deal and should be celebrated as a milestone,” Buongiorno says. However, he says, minimizing what’s still to come would be a mistake: “Nothing is easy and nothing is quick when it comes to the NRC.”

There’s an additional wrinkle: NuScale wants to tweak its reactor modules. While the company was going through the lengthy regulatory process, researchers were still working on reactor design. During the process of submission and planning, the company discovered that its reactors could achieve better performance.

“We found that we could actually produce more power with the same reactor, the same exact size,” says Jose Reyes, cofounder and chief technology officer at 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, which will be built at the Idaho National Laboratory, NuScale is planning to package six of the higher-capacity reactors together, making the plant capacity 462 MW in total.

The upgraded power rating requires some adjustments, but the module design is fundamentally the same. Still, it means that the company needed to resubmit updated plans to the NRC, which it did last month. It could take up to two years before the altered plans are approved by the agency and the company can move on to site approval, Reyes says.

The long road ahead

Back in 2017, NuScale planned to have its first power plant in Idaho running and generating electricity for the grid by 2026. That timeline has been pushed back to 2029. 

Meanwhile, costs are higher than when the regulatory process first kicked off. In January, NuScale announced that its planned price of electricity from the Idaho plant project had increased, from $58 per megawatt-hour to $89. That’s more expensive than most other sources of electricity today, including solar and wind power and most natural-gas plants. 

The price hikes would be even higher if not for substantial federal investment. The Department of Energy has already pitched in over $1 billion to the project, and the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year includes $30/MWh in credits for nuclear power plants.

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