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Faith Heaton Jolley, KSL, File

Logan withdraws from nuclear power project seen as cutting-edge but risky

By Graham Dudley, KSL.com | Posted - Aug. 20, 2020 at 5:16 p.m.



LOGAN — A hesitant Logan City Council agreed to follow staff recommendations Tuesday and voted to leave a nuclear power project that has been characterized by ballooning costs and funding uncertainties.

The Carbon Free Power Project aims to begin producing nuclear power from state-of-the-art small modular reactors by the end of the decade. But the projected cost of the power plant jumped from about $3.6 billion in 2017 to more than $6.1 billion in 2020.

Logan has already committed more than $400,000 to the project and would have paid over $650,000 more in the next three years to see it through its next phase, at which point the city would again have had the option to modify or withdraw from the agreement.

The project involves the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, a political subdivision of the state of Utah which supplies energy to communities in six Western states and of which Logan is a member. The reactors are being built by Oregon-based NuScale, and the Texas-based Fluor Corporation is involved in project construction.

Logan council members reviewed the city's involvement in the Carbon Free Power Project during their Aug. 4 and Aug. 18 meetings, ultimately voting 4-1 to leave the agreement. Councilman Jess Bradfield was the lone dissenter, though Mark Anderson expressed regret at the council's position.

"This one gives me heartburn," he said, but added that he has "a hard time going against staff's recommendation."

The council very nearly opted to remain in the contract but was ultimately swayed by input from Logan finance director Richard Anderson. "I've been against this since day one," Richard Anderson said. "I've never thought any of it made the slightest bit of sense. And the more I listen to the people who are in charge, the less confidence I have in it."

Logan Light & Power director Mark Montgomery outlined some issues with the project during the Aug. 4 meeting. He said the project subscription — how much of its projected power output has already been claimed and divvied up — remains low, and that a cost-sharing agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy was supposed to have been done this spring but is still yet unsigned.

"I flip-flop every other day," Montgomery said on Aug. 18, "about whether I want to just run screaming from it, or I think, 'Man, this is going to be a really great project, and this is going to be a good thing for Logan City's portfolio.'" But he ultimately advised that the city leave the agreement.

In addition to NuScale, Fluor and UAMPS, the U.S. Department of Energy is also invested in the project. UAMPS spokesman LaVarr Webb said the U.S. government wants to support next-generation nuclear technologies both to combat climate change and also to keep up with global powers like China and Russia.

"The Department of Energy, both under the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration, has been very supportive of this project," Webb said, "because it does represent new technology. It represents next-generation nuclear. The federal government does not want to leave nuclear innovation and development to the Russians and Chinese."

Webb said that even though Logan is leaving the agreement, UAMPS has no plans to abandon support of the project and anticipates that other entities will sign on as the project moves forward. "UAMPS has engaged in this project development in phases," Webb said, "precisely to give members opportunities to withdraw if they wish."

He named Wells Rural Electric Company, which serves communities like Wells and West Wendover, Nevada, as an entity that is interested in joining the Carbon Free Power Project.

UAMPS has 47 members, including 36 in Utah, and Webb said 35 of those members have "elected to investigate the Carbon Free Power Project" and participate in its initial stages. UAMPS members can pick and choose among the entity's 16 power sources to build their energy portfolio, Webb explained.

The nuclear power plant is slated for construction on Idaho National Laboratory lands and the first reactor is scheduled to come online in 2029. The plant is anticipated to produce at least 600MW of energy with 12 small modular reactors, a first-of-its-kind power project in the United States.

Graham Dudley

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