home Energy Sources, U Small modular reactor a potential replacement for natural gas energy for Logan

Small modular reactor a potential replacement for natural gas energy for Logan

Nuclear energy isn’t considered renewable, but Logan’s Renewable Energy and Conservation Advisory Board, or RECAB, is interested in hearing about its capability to complement renewables.

On Friday, RECAB hosted Doug Hunter, CEO of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, for a discussion on what he said is the county’s first nuclear production company. Hunter said UAMPS has partnered with NuScale Power to create a small modular nuclear reactor at Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls with an expected completion date of January 2026. Logan is on track to participate, but there are plenty of off-ramps for the city’s public utility.

Hunter said NuScale’s design for a small modular reactor is much, much safer than any other reactor ever built. At the Fukushima disaster in Japan, there was no energy to pump water to cool the cores. At the Three Mile Island incident, plant operators turned off the emergency alarms.

“I believe big reactors are inherently dangerous,” Hunter said. “They have to be watched all the time. You can’t leave them alone for a second.”

But those problems can’t happen at a small modular reactor. In the case of an emergency, Hunter said the small modular reactor requires no outside power, no additional water and no operator action. Instead, rods suspended by gravity would fall to the core and absorb neutrons, stopping the reaction.

“They really reduce everything down to just a really small, simple package,” he said.

With NuScale’s technology, Hunter said there are no moving parts, nothing can break, all of the tubes are very small and all the water is held within the system.

And it’s designed to be scalable. Hunter said the modular reactor would have the potential to hold 12 reactors that could each produce 50 megawatts, for a total power generation capacity of 600 megawatts. Depending on how many utilities participate, they can add generation as needed.

The modular reactor is the centerpiece of UAMPS’s carbon-free power project, one of about 15 resource projects run by the energy services entity that provides project-based wholesale energy for 46 municipal utilities across six states in the Intermountain West.

UAMPS isn’t the only entity interested in NuScale’s technology. Hunter said he anticipates the U.S. Department of Energy will fund about one-third of the project’s total cost. He said the U.S. wants to become a worldwide leader again in nuclear technology. It’s all about national security for the DOE, he said.

“Egypt just cut a big deal with Russia on nuclear reactors,” Hunter said. “We didn’t because we don’t have any technology in the United States.”

National security probably isn’t what grabbed Logan’s interest, however. Instead, it’s the opportunity to buy energy from a small modular reactor 125 miles away that could potentially replace natural gas as an energy source to complement the variable nature of renewables.

The Municipal Council in December adopted a renewable energy goal of reaching 50 percent renewables by 2030, but that would still leave 50 percent open to nonrenewables. If a cloud comes over a solar panel or if the wind stops spinning a turbine, a utility needs something to fill in that gap. Today, Logan mostly uses natural gas, but the nuclear power from a small modular reactor could take its place.

On Logan’s renewable energy goal, Hunter said the current 20 percent renewable portfolio is the easy part.

“Getting to 30 percent is tougher, getting to 50 percent is really tough,” he said. “It really is.”

Taking a look at California, Hunter said its goal is to reach 100 percent “clean energy,” made up of 60 percent renewables and 40 percent “other.” That “other” niche is what NuScale wants to fill, he said. Same goes for Logan.

“It doesn’t replace, it’s just a complement,” Hunter said.

Logan is currently paying a monthly bill to UAMPS for the small modular reactor review process, but once it’s complete in 2026, all Logan would have to do is pay the cost of energy. Hunter said that could be between 4.5 to 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

The decision to continue on the path to participate in the early phase of the reactor will be left up to the Municipal Council and the Light and Power Advisory Board in the coming years.

Since nuclear energy isn’t renewable, RECAB has not factored that into their renewable energy roadmap. But Matt Perry, chair of RECAB, said there are environmental concerns with any nuclear power plant. They consume huge amounts of water and they create waste that Perry said basically lasts forever.

“Just the sheer water consumption and waste generation,” he said.

Hunter said NuScale’s design would be able to store 100 years worth of waste on-site and the plant can only operate for 80 years. There are few different cooling options that would require different amounts of water. A 100 percent wet cooling system, Hunter said, would use about 18,000 acre-feet of water per year, which comes out to about 6 billion gallons.

Source: The Herald Journal