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By Andrew Follett
After years of delays, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) finally agreed to review the first-ever application for a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR).
NRC has begun a formal review of a proposed SMR advanced nuclear reactor two months after NuScale Power, the company behind the project filed a 12,000-page application for it. The first NuScale’s SMR is expected to begin operations in 2026.
“This is a great next step for a new American nuclear technology and a step we see as affirming NuScale as a true leader in SMR technology development,” John Hopkins, NuScale CEO, said in a press release. “The uncommon fact that the NRC was able to accept our application during the 60-day docketing review period is validation of all of our hard work over the past eight years.”
Just asking the government for approval to file the plans cost NuScale $500 million and 2 million labor hours over eight years. NuScale wants to build the first U.S. SMR in Utah, but producing the 12,000-page document will cost the company tens of millions of dollars, including paying NRC officials $258 per hour to review it.
It doesn’t end there. The full review process for the reactor will likely take an additional three years and cost NuScale another $45 million.
The uncertainty surrounding the bureaucratic NRC process has already been a major issue for NuScale, and the company’s half a billion dollar investment in its application could still be terminated for several reasons
Advanced modular nuclear reactors could restart the atomic age by providing cheap, meltdown-proof and waste-free nuclear power. These reactors were originally developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but were abandoned because they couldn’t be used by the military.
Small modular reactors could be a game changer for nuclear power. They have the potential to be much cheaper than conventional reactors, since they can be manufactured completely in a factory. These reactors would also require far less up-front investment, making them cost competitive with natural gas and more capable of powering remote areas.
Heavy government regulations combined with polices intended to support wind and solar power make it incredibly difficult to profitably operate a nuclear power plant, according to a study published in October by the free-market R Street Institute.
Conventional U.S. nuclear plants spend an estimated $4.2 million each every year to meet government paperwork requirements and another $4.4 million to pay government-mandated security staff, according to an American Action Forum report. In addition to paperwork requirement costs, the average plant spends approximately $14 million on various government fees.
Cost isn’t the only factor identified complicating nuclear power expansion. Getting regulatory approval from the NRC to build a new conventional reactor can take up to 25 years, while building a new plant by itself only takes about 10 of those years. The NRC requires so much paperwork from the nuclear power providers that the average plant requires 86 full-time employees just to go through it all.
It took an incredible 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor at Watt Barr in Tennessee due to a combination of scandals, red tape and environmental concerns. Things at the NRC still move so slowly that it took nuclear regulators six months and three different attempts to give congressional overseers information they requested on the research budgets of projects.