Back in August, we looked at an exciting new energy project that’s unfolding in Idaho but which has run into funding issues along with some political skulduggery. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is working with a company named NuScale to build the first Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in the nation. This revolutionary technology involves a nuclear reactor that can be constructed from small, individual modules (as the name suggests) that are assembled at a central facility and can then be transported to the site where they will be put in operation. New modules can be added as demand increases, offering more flexibility. The finished plant also takes up far less land than conventional reactors.
Unfortunately, the plan has been criticized for the total costs involved. In addition, as I pointed out in the article linked above, a liberal activist group from California (posing as a group of “concerned” Utah hunters and fishermen) have been lobbying against the proposal and trying to convince the local utility companies to pull out of the project. Some of those cost concerns may have been allayed this week, however. The Trump administration has approved a $1.4 billion grant through the Department of Energy to make the SMR installation more affordable. (Washington Examiner)
A company racing to be among the first to operate a small nuclear reactor in the United States received a vote of confidence from the federal government Friday after encountering recent roadblocks.
The Energy Department approved a $1.4 billion grant to help defray costs for a group of utilities that are the first in line to buy power from the reactors produced by NuScale Power.
The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a group of small, community-owned utilities in six Western states, had previously indicated the group might pull out of the NuScale project unless it received the extra funding from the government.
I’ll confess that government funding of projects in the energy industry always sets my teeth on edge. This grant definitely carries the appearance of the federal government picking winners and losers, something that rarely works out well in the long run. It’s reminiscent of Washington’s incentives and mandates designed to bolster the ethanol industry at the expense of the oil and gas industry, which has proven to be a disaster.
This project, however, has some unique aspects that should probably lead us to tolerate this sort of financial intervention. Ethanol was already a long-proven technology when Uncle Sam stuck his beak into the matter. These SMRs are new, cutting edge technology that may need some short-term incentivizing to demonstrate the viability of the concept.
In addition to the smaller physical footprint I mentioned above, these reactors create far less hazardous waste in the form of spent fuel rods. They should be able to operate for many decades with lower operational and security costs. And for those of you who remain focused on carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses, nuclear power plants don’t produce any. It’s some of the “greenest” energy available on the planet aside from solar and hydroelectric. We’re pretty much maxed out on waterfalls at the moment and nuclear power plants keep working after the sun goes down.
With all that in mind, a one-time injection of taxpayer money could be seen as a justifiable investment if it allows this nascent technology to get off the ground. America’s nuclear power industry is basically in its death throes right now, due almost entirely to oppressive government regulation of traditional nuclear power plants. It’s simply too expensive to build a plant and get it approved so utility companies have been very reluctant to try building new ones. NuScale’s process could make nuclear power far more attractive again and solve many of our energy issues into the next century and beyond. America is the world leader in oil and gas energy at the moment, but that’s not going to last forever. Clean, safe nuclear power may well be our saving grace in the future.