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Energy companies are getting out: No interest in mini-nuclear power plants

A consortium of energy forms wanted to build the first modular mini-nuclear reactor in the United States. Now they are getting out – the perspective is unclear.

A rusty sign with the symbol for radioactivity

Does nuclear power have a future? For energy companies only if the state covers the risks Photo: Olena/Pond5/imago

WASHINGTON taz | The renaissance of nuclear energy in the USA, which was promised in pro-nuclear circles, has suffered a severe setback. The company NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems consortium said they the project of a first mini nuclear power plant with so-called Small Modular Reactors (SMR) gave up in Idaho. The reason was the growing costs and the dwindling interest of energy companies in committing to the technology in the long term.

The small modular reactors are considered in some countries to be a safer alternative to large nuclear power plants, because they get by with less radioactive inventory. In addition to the USA, companies in Canada and Great Britain are also working on the development of these mini-rechargeable batteries. France and Poland have also announced their intention to rely on this technology.

NuScale works on many of these projects. It is currently the only US company whose design for this type of reactor has been approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The pilot project, which was to be built in the US state of Idaho, called for the construction of six reactors, each of which would generate 77 megawatts of electricity. The mini-nuclear power plant should go online in 2029. However, delays and cost explosions caused concerns among the energy companies within the consortium involved. Some eventually decided to withdraw from the contract concluded in 2019 that obliges the consortium to purchase 200 megawatts.

The nuclear lobby is calm

Despite the setback, John Hopkins, NuScale’s chief executive, remains convinced that the company will soon be able to realize its first mini-nuclear project. “Our work on this project over the past decade has helped ensure NuScale technology is ready for commercial use. Reaching this milestone is a huge achievement that we plan to build on with our customers going forward,” Hopkins said in a statement.

Signs that the project was in trouble began appearing last year after costs ballooned to $9 billion.

However, Aditi Verma, a lecturer in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan, believes that the project’s cancellation was an entirely expected outcome. “This is a new technology in which a dozen companies are trying to realize their projects commercially,” she told the taz. “It shouldn’t be surprising that this can lead to setbacks that can lead to the destruction of some companies.”

No alternative to renewables

The nuclear lobby also does not want to recognize a general failure of the “next generation of nuclear reactors”: “The failure of the project is the result of the free market and the discomfort of some customers in being pioneers in the market launch of new technologies,” explained a Nuclear press spokesman Energy Institute.

For critics, the end in Idaho and the exit of the energy companies is further evidence that nuclear energy has no future In view of the climate crisis, there is no real alternative to renewable energies represents.

The anti-nuclear organization Environmental Working Group said it was time to pull the plug. “The hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money was wasted here“We should have invested in existing and safe renewable energies such as solar and wind,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.

With Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his company TerraPower as well as at least half a dozen other companies investing in this new technology, it still seems only a matter of time before the first mini-nuclear power plant is launched in the USA. However, this is unlikely to happen before the end of the current decade. Interest in reliable and cost-effective energy is growing around the world. However, whether mini-nuclear power plants will succeed to keep up with renewable energies in terms of priceis questionable.

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