Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and NuScale Power Corp. (NuScale) have mutually agreed to terminate the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), a small modular reactor (SMR) project that was planned for construction on Idaho National Laboratory (INL) property near Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“Despite significant efforts by both parties to advance the CFPP, it appears unlikely that the project will have enough subscription to continue toward deployment. Therefore, UAMPS and NuScale have mutually determined that ending the project is the most prudent decision for both parties,” the developers said in an announcement issued on Nov. 8.
UAMPS is a political subdivision of the State of Utah that provides comprehensive wholesale electric-energy, transmission, and other energy services, on a nonprofit basis, to 50 community-owned power systems throughout the Intermountain West, including in Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming. The CFPP was a major project for UAMPS. At one point in time, it was envisioned to be a 720-MWe power plant comprised of 12 NuScale SMR power modules. As time progressed and member subscriptions for plant production lagged expectations, the project was scaled back to six modules with a combined capacity of 462 MWe.
During the CFPP Project Management Committee (PMC) Meeting held in October, CFPP Project Director Shawn Hughes delivered a comprehensive project update. He reported that CFPP had met or exceeded all planned milestones to date. Furthermore, he assured the PMC that the Combined License Application (COLA) was progressing as planned and was on track for submission to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in January 2024. The focus of the team at the time was on “the completion of the remaining tasks of the COLA and conducting section reviews of the application to ensure quality and accuracy.”
In an update issued by UAMPS in October, the entity said, “The project’s progress not only represents major achievements for CFPP as a specific entity but also within the broader context of the development of small modular nuclear reactors.” All indications were that the project was on schedule for the first NuScale Power Module to begin generating power in 2029, with the remaining modules coming online for full plant operation by 2030, but the project came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday.
“Through our work with UAMPS and our partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE], we have advanced our NuScale Power Modules to the point that utilities, governments, and industrials can rely on a proven small modular reactor (SMR) technology that has regulatory approval and is in active production. Our work with CFPP over the past 10 years has advanced NuScale technology to the stage of commercial deployment; reaching that milestone is a tremendous success, which we will continue to build on with future customers,” NuScale President and CEO John Hopkins said in a statement. “NuScale will continue with our other domestic and international customers to bring our American SMR technology to market and grow the U.S. nuclear manufacturing base, creating jobs across the U.S. We thank UAMPS for the collaboration that has enabled this advancement.”
In October, Standard Power, a provider of infrastructure as a service to advanced data processing companies, announced it had chosen NuScale Power’s SMR technology to power two facilities it plans to develop in Ohio and Pennsylvania. NuScale also has a memorandum of understanding with Nucor Corporation to explore co-locating SMR power plants to provide baseload electricity to Nucor’s scrap-based electric arc furnace (EAF) steel mills. The companies said they will also explore an expanded manufacturing partnership through which Nucor, the largest steel producer and recycler of any type of material in North America, would supply Econiq, its net-zero steel products, for NuScale projects.
Concerning the CFPP, however, costs for the first-of-a-kind project were a mounting concern. Still, NuScale’s Hopkins said during the company’s quarterly earnings call on Nov. 8 that capital cost projections had not increased “between the Class 3 and current Class 2 estimates” when adjusted for inflation. “I want to emphasize that point, because not only have overall capital costs remain stable, the cost of NuScale’s SMR technology, which is just one component of the CFPP, have remained steady as well,” he said.
Instead, Hopkins pointed to subscriptions as the main factor in the termination decision. “CFPP targeted 80% subscription for the project by year end,” he noted. “Despite significant efforts by both parties to advance the CFPP, it appeared unlikely that the project would have enough subscription to support deployment. Therefore, UAMPS and NuScale mutually determined that ending the project was the most prudent decision for both parties.”
“This decision is very disappointing given the years of pioneering hard work put into the CFPP by UAMPS, CFPP LLC, NuScale, U.S. Department of Energy, and the UAMPS member communities that took the leadership role to launch the CFPP,” said UAMPS CEO and General Manager Mason Baker.
“Yet, this decision is the best course for the UAMPS members participating in the CFPP and doing what is best for those member communities will always be the guiding light in such decisions. We have learned many invaluable lessons during the development of the CFPP that we will carry forward in future development work to meet the future energy needs of the UAMPS member communities. We look forward to continuing to provide innovative and cost-effective new resource solutions to our members, and, at the same time, we hope NuScale is successful in deploying its technology,” Baker said.
A DOE spokesperson told POWER: “Despite significant efforts by both parties, NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) mutually decided to terminate UAMPS participation in the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) due to challenges receiving the necessary subscriber support to continue toward deployment. Although this is unfortunate news, we believe the work accomplished to date on CFPP will be valuable for future nuclear energy projects.”
The spokesperson continued: “Nuclear energy provides nearly half of the nation’s carbon-free power and advanced nuclear energy technology is a critical tool to meet our ambitious net-zero goals. We absolutely need advanced nuclear energy technology to meet ambitious clean energy goals. First-of-a-kind deployments, such as CFPP, can be difficult. While not every project is guaranteed to succeed, DOE remains committed to doing everything we can to deploy these technologies to combat the climate crisis and increase access to clean energy.”
The DOE has reportedly provided $232 million to the CFPP since October 2020. Notably, the funding was awarded through a “non-competitive funding vehicle,” which predated the enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which the DOE says are now driving “the competitive process for clean energy investments.” Baker, meanwhile, noted that UAMPS, NuScale, and the DOE are working closely on next steps to wind the project down.
—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.
[Ed. note: This post was originally published Nov. 8, 2023. It was updated on Nov. 9, 2023, at 6:30 a.m. ET, to add additional information from the NuScale earnings call and input provided by a DOE spokesperson.]