Plans to build an innovative new nuclear power plant—and thus revitalize the struggling U.S. nuclear industry—have taken a hit as in recent weeks: Eight of the 36 public utilities that had signed on to help build the plant have backed out of the deal. The withdrawals come just months after the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which intends to buy the plant containing 12 small modular reactors from NuScale Power, announced that completion of the project would be delayed by 3 years to 2030. It also estimates the cost would climb from $4.2 billion to $6.1 billion.
“The project is still very much going forward,” says LaVarr Webb, a spokesperson for UAMPS, which has nearly four dozen members in Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Although some UAMPS members have dropped out, “promising discussions are ongoing with a number of utilities to join the project or enter into power-purchase agreements,” Webb says.
However, critics of the project say the developments underscore that the plant, which is designed by NuScale Power and would be built at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho National Laboratory, will be untenably expensive. M. V. Ramana, a physicist who works on public policy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, says he’s not surprised that so many utilities have opted out of the project. The question, he says, is why so many are sticking with it. “They ought to be seeing the writing on the wall and getting out by the dozens,” he says.