Earlier this year, NuScale Energy took a crucial step forward in its prolonged effort to build 12 scaled-down nuclear reactors on an empty parcel at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling research campus on the outskirts of Idaho Falls (see “Shrinking Nuclear”). The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed to begin the formal process of reviewing the company’s designs for the 600-megawatt plant, which could power a city the size of Boise twice over.
That gives NuScale, based in Portland, Oregon, the inside track on building the country’s first commercial reactors of this type. Known as small modular reactors, or SMRs, they also represent the first substantially new reactor design of any kind to reach this NRC milestone in decades.
But many more SMR projects are coming or under way. There are around 50 designs or concepts in various development or planning stages around the world, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Four are already in advanced construction in Argentina, Russia, and China.
If the early projects are built and succeed, these smaller and potentially safer nuclear reactors raise the real possibility of mass-produced mini plants that can significantly reduce the industry’s up-front costs and risks.
NuScale is on track to build the first commercial small modular reactors in the United States.
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