Legal & Regulatory

Two Big Nuclear Regulatory Milestones for Idaho NuScale SMR Project

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on July 31 accepted a standard design approval (SDA) application for NuScale Power’s VOYGR-6, a plant design that will be featured in the 462-MWe Carbon-Free Power Project (CFPP) proposed at an Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site.

The milestone comes on the same day that CFPP submitted a limited work authorization (LWA) to the NRC, seeking approval to begin early construction activities as the first part of the project’s combined license application (COLA).

NRC Accepts SDA Application for NuScale 77-MWe Module

The NRC’s acceptance of NuScale’s SDA application follows a technical acceptance review that began in March 2023. The regulatory body now plans to conduct “an efficient, high-quality safety review” that could result in the issuance of a final safety evaluation report by July 31, 2025—24 months from docketing. However, that date could change owing to several factors, the NRC noted. These include the “timeframe for resolution of complex technical issues, unanticipated changes to the scope of the review, any supplements to the application, design changes, or other unanticipated factors.”

NuScale submitted the SDA application to the NRC in January 2023, marking its second SDA application submittal. The company garnered an SDA for its original 50-MWe module, based on a 12-module plant rated at 1,920 MWth (600 MWe), in September 2020. (In July 2022, the NRC certified the 50-MWe design, making it only the seventh reactor design certification that the regulatory body has issued for use in the U.S.) In 2018, however, NuScale raised its NuScale Power Module’s (NPM’s) capacity from 50 MWe to 60 MWe, and in November 2020, it announced another significant uprate, boosting the NPM’s capacity from 60 MWe to 77 MWe (gross). The uprate effectively expanded the company’s flagship 12-module plant size from 720 MWe to 924 MWe.

At the time, NuScale also launched two smaller plant solutions—a four-module plant of about 308 MWe, and a six-module plant of about 462 MWe—to provide potential customers with more options in terms of size, power output, operational flexibility, and cost. The change was pivotal to accommodate the CFPP. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a political subdivision of the State of Utah that wholly owns CFPP LLC, had originally proposed the much-watched project as a 12-module, 720-MWe project. It was later downsized to a 462-MWe VOYGR-6 plant to provide much-needed flexibility as UAMPS scrambled to secure financial commitments from its members

LWA Submittal—First Part of CFPP COLA—Is an SMR First

CFPP LLC—the entity UAMPS established to develop, build, and operate the first-of-a-kind SMR project at an INL site in Idaho Falls, Idaho—on Monday confirmed the project is still targeting an end-of-year 2029 commercial operation date. The company’s submittal of an LWA as the project’s first part of its COLA marks an “imperative” milestone, noted Mason Baker, CFPP LLC president. When approved, the LWA could “pave the way for the initiation of early-scope construction which is expected to start mid-2025,” CFPP said

“Commencing with construction activities allows for progress to continue on the CFPP site prior to the full authorization granted in the COL,” Baker explained on Monday. “It also marks a significant milestone as a major CFPP submittal to the NRC, and more broadly, the first application to the NRC for construction of a full-scale, commercial SMR.”

CFPP began work on its COLA in August 2021 with backing from engineering firm Fluor and NuScale. For now, it plans to submit the second part of the CFPP COLA in January 2024. If the NRC approves the COLA, construction of the project could begin in 2026, with the first VOYGR-6 module scheduled to be in service by December 2029. All modules are slated to be in service by November 2030.

CFPP, however, continues to grapple with the tough task of signing up project participants—subscribers who could eventually offtake portions of the project’s power.  As of March 2023, 26 project participants lodged financial commitments to continue the CFPP in February, clearing the project’s second “off-ramp,” which was triggered by a Class 3 project cost estimate put forth by CFPP contractors Fluor and NuScale in December 2022. The entity confirmed to POWER no changes have occurred since March.

However, CFPP and NuScale continue to implement a subscription plan that includes several collaborative efforts to boost subscription levels to 370 MW—or about 80% of the project’s capacity—over the next six months, or at least by the time the full COLA is submitted to the NRC.

CFPP in March noted that while the current subscription represents just 26% of the CFPP’s gross 426-MWe, it marked an “overwhelming approval,” which was especially notable because NuScale and Fluor’s Class 3 project cost estimate failed to reach its levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) price target of $58/MWh (in 2020 dollars).

Under Fluor’s Class 3 estimations, the total CFPP project cost—which factors in updated owner’s costs, interest rate assumptions, the cost of acquisition and construction, and operating and maintenance costs—now hover at $9.24 billion. CFPP expects, however, that a 2020 cost-sharing agreement with the DOE will furnish the project with another $1.4 billion. Along with $9 million of prior cost-sharing payments from NuScale, that could reduce total costs to $7.972 billion. Further cost reductions could meanwhile come from the August 2022–enacted Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), it suggested. A preliminary CFPP analysis indicates that the project could reap about $2.8 billion in benefits, which could reduce net project costs to $5.1 billion.

In December 2022, meanwhile, as required by its Development Cost Reimbursement Agreement (DCRA) with CFPP, NuScale unveiled the results of an economic competitiveness test (ECT) to determine project LCOE. Factoring in findings from the Class 3 estimates, the DOE cost-sharing payments, estimated IRA benefits, and the owner’s cost estimate, NuScale projected LCOE had soared to $89/MWh (in July 2022 dollars).

—Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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