One of the big selling points of nuclear power is that it produces huge amounts of electricity. Reactors that generate over a billion watts of power are common. The smallest commercial power reactor in the U.S. is located at Fort Calhoun in Nebraska and it generates over five hundred megawatts. There is a movement now towards smaller reactors called "small modular reactors" (SMRs) that produce three hundred million watts or less. The supporters of this trend say that these reactors can be constructed on a production line and shipped to where they will be installed and operated. This is supposed to benefit from standardization of components and less costly onsite work. Critics say that it is unlikely that three of these reactors could be built and installed for less money than a single big reactor that would produce more electricity.
Washington City is located in Utah. Its population is about eighteen thousand people which makes it the thirty fifth largest city in Utah. This week the City Council agreed to consider the possibility of nuclear power generation as an alternative to a coal power plant. They are going to research sites for a local nuclear power plant. Washington City only needs eleven megawatts of electricity from a new plant. One of the reasons for the interest in the nuclear option is the fact that the city has developed a "Carbon Free Power Project" in order to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by the production of electricity.
Washington City is teaming with NuScale Power which is an Oregon-based company. NuScale is one of the companies working on the SMRs. They have publicized plans to work on reactors for municipalities who may need as little as fifty megawatts of electricity from a nuclear power plant. They say that twelve of these SMRs could be linked together to produce six hundred megawatts of electricity which is comparable to the low end of the existing big nuclear power reactors. NuScale is working on such a system to be constructed near Idaho Falls. They hope to have the system in operation by 2024.
Washington City has agreed to provide an initial twenty thousand dollars in conjunction with contributions from other nearby municipalities for Phase I of the exploratory process. Phase II calls for spending between one million three hundred thousand dollars and two million six hundred thousand dollars. The higher number would be required if the Utah Associated Municipal Power System partners with NuScale. NuScale will provide half the funding if the UAMPS comes in on the project. The federal Department of Energy is ready to provide a two hundred and fifty million dollar grant for Phase III to help with the development of SMRs.
The DoE has been working with several different companies to stimulate the development of SMRs. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of interest from potential customers and potential investors in SMRs which has slowed down the development work. Time will tell if this alternative to the gigawatt plus big power reactors is viable.
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