SALT LAKE CITY — NuScale Power says that its technology being used in the creation of small modular reactor nuclear power plants can deliver 25% more power per unit, making it possible for greater flexibility for customers like the Carbon Free Power Project to build a smaller plant for members in Utah and the Intermountain West.

The engineering and modeling efforts by NuScale Power means the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems can downsize its plans for a 12-module unit at Idaho National Laboratory and instead possibly pursue something smaller and more tailored to serve its members who have signed on to the project.

NuScale said Tuesday that instead of each modular unit producing 60 megawatts of power, units will individually be able to generate 77 megawatts. With that development in mind, NuScale announced options for smaller power plants with a four-module plant to produce about 308 megawatts or a six-module unit to generate 462 megawatts.

A megawatt, generated from conventional energy producers like coal plants, is generally enough to provide power to 400 to 600 homes over a year’s time.

A statement released Tuesday by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems says it is reviewing options for a six-module unit or a four-module unit.

“We are confident that with these options and increased flexibility, the Carbon Free Power Project will deliver affordable, stable, carbon-free energy to participating members, complementing and enabling large amounts of renewable energy,” said spokesman LaVarr Webb.

“This project will allow UAMPS’ coal generation to be retired, and many members will be on a path to completely de-carbonize their energy portfolios,” he added. 

Although eight members of the power association dropped out of the Carbon Free Project by an Oct. 31 deadline, Webb said 28 remain committed and interest is increasing to join the effort by utility companies that are nonmembers.

Those cities that dropped out cited concerns over costs and raised questions about the new technology.

Webb said the power association will not move forward with the project unless costs per megawatt hour remains at $55 or lower and the current timeline for licensing and permitting is preserved.

NuScale is in a global contest to be the first to deploy the small modular reactor technology, with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission endorsing its design and safety application earlier this year.

The project at the Idaho National Laboratory is the farthest along in the regulatory process for this technology, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

“Without impacting the unparalleled safety of our design, our engineers have proven yet again that NuScale’s technology is first class, and can offer significant cost savings and customization at a level yet to be seen in the nuclear energy market,” said NuScale Power Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins. “With this advancement, NuScale continues to demonstrate that it is the global leader in the race to commercialize small modular reactors.”

If proven successful, the NuScale technology would revolutionize the footprint of carbon emissions and energy portfolios on a large scale.

With coal-fired power plants retiring, energy providers are looking to shore up a reliable baseline load of electricity to complement renewables like wind and solar and reduce their carbon emissions.

Marc Nichol, senior director of advanced reactors for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said there is increasing buzz around this type of technology due to the accelerated momentum surrounding the desire to cut pollution.

“The reason is because a lot of people see nuclear as being an integral solution to environmental, economic and national security goals. Specifically, a lot of utilities are starting to put out voluntary commitments to reduce carbon by 2050,” Nichol said. “And you can’t do it without nuclear. We need more nuclear than we have today.”

Other countries are ramping up their interest in advanced reactor technology particularly since their grids are less reliable than the United States’ or they don’t have access to the abundant natural gas resources that exist in this country, Nichol said.

Both Nichol and Webb pointed to the promise of $1.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy to help deploy NuScale’s technology at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Webb said that award of money, dependent on congressional appropriations, is a cost-share award that makes the project more viable up front.

That infusion of financial commitment coupled with the smaller configuration of modules makes the project even more tenable, he added.

“We would expect the price tag to be lower,” he said.

The next phase for the Carbon Free Power Project is the drafting of a construction and operating application for submittal to federal regulators, due in 2023.

That process by the power association will be lengthy and involve tens of thousands of pages. An environmental review will also take place to determine site suitability at the Idaho National Laboratory. The first unit would come online in 2029, with full operation by 2030.

There continues to be criticism over the Idaho project. The Utah Taxpayers Association has for months urged participants to bow out over cost concerns and what they say is unproven technology.

Nichol disputes the assertion NuScale’s technology is “unproven,” because he says it is a smaller version of a light water reactor.

“The technology in my opinion has been demonstrated even though it has not been operated commercially,” he said.

He said the project in Idaho should matter to everyone.

“I am very excited for this project,” he said. “I think it is really important to the nation as whole. ... It really is ushering in this new technology and new possibilities for nuclear energy.”