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US gives first-ever OK for small commercial nuclear reactor

US officials have for the first time approved a design for a small commercial nuclear reactor, and a Utah energy cooperative wants to build 12 of them in Idaho.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday approved Portland-based NuScale Power’s application for the small modular reactor that Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems plans to build at a US Department of Energy site in eastern Idaho.

The small reactors can produce about 60 megawatts of energy, or enough to power more than 50,000 homes.

The proposed project includes 12 small modular reactors. The first would be built in 2029, with the rest in 2030.

NuScale says the reactors have advanced safety features, including self-cooling and automatic shutdown.

“This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire US nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow,” said NuScale Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins in a statement.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems already has agreements with the Energy Department to build the reactors at the federal agency’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility that would help with the development of the reactors.

The Department of Energy has spent more than USD 400 million since 2014 to hasten the development of the small modular reactors or SMRs.

“DOE is proud to support the licensing and development of NuScale’s Power Module and other SMR technologies that have the potential to bring clean and reliable power to areas never thought possible by nuclear reactors in the US, and soon the world,” said Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy.

The energy cooperative has embarked on a plan called the Carbon Free Power Project that aims to supply carbon-free energy to its nearly 50 members, mostly municipalities, in six Western states.

The company plans to buy the reactors from NuScale, then assemble them in Idaho. The company is also looking to bring on other utilities that would use the power generated by the reactors.

Cooperative “members themselves would use a portion of the electricity, but other utilities would become involved and purchase power,” said LaVarr Webb, spokesman for the cooperative.

He said not all the power that will be produced from the proposed reactors has been allocated, but he expects more interest with the US approval of NuScale’s design.

He said the next step is for the cooperative to submit a combined construction and operating license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The process also includes an environmental analysis. Webb said the cooperative will likely have that ready within two years.

The first small modular reactor is scheduled to come online in 2029, with 11 more to follow in 2030.