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Critics of planned nuclear power project urge Utah cities to pull out before it’s too late

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Aug. 4, 2020 at 6:46 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Taxpayers Association and a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are urging cities that have signed on to a planned nuclear power plant in Idaho to get out while they can before costs become too great.

NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor is planned for construction at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls and would provide 720 megawatts of power, or enough energy for 720,000 homes.

The Carbon Free Power Project is promoted as the next generation design for nuclear power, featuring 12 distinct modules, with the first scheduled to come online in 2029 with the 11 others following the next year.

The project is a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Department of Energy, NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a political subdivision of the state of Utah. That group is made up of cities and special service districts in six states and was established to provide power, transmission and other electrical-related services on a nonprofit basis.

“If members determine there is too much risk the project will not go forward,” said spokesman LaVarr Webb. “That is why many, many steps have been taken to de-risk the project and why it is going forward in phases. ... It is also important to remember this will represent only a portion of their energy portfolio.”

Webb said there are several off-ramps in those phases for cities to exit, one of which is coming up Sept. 14. That deadline prompted the taxpayers association to urge cities to get out now before they get trapped into paying millions for a technology it says is unproven.

“Small modular reactor power is just not cost competitive,” said Rusty Cannon, vice president of the taxpayer group, adding participating cities and districts should hold a public vote to withdraw from the project.

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Cannon, in a teleconference Tuesday, pointed to Bountiful’s costs as an example — which after May 2023 will increase to roughly $1.4 million.

Based on its percentage of participation and current levels of subscription to the power, Bountiful’s costs would be a little more than $21 million to be paid over 40 years through electricity rates. The plant is expected to last a minimum of 60 years and possibly 80 years.

Cannon said 30% of the power to be generated has been committed or subscribed by participants at this time.

“We just don’t think this is a good idea.”

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