HomeEnvironment & Climate NewsU.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Ever Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Design

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Ever Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Design

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued its final safety evaluation of NuScale Power’s (NuScale) small modular nuclear reactor, approving the design.

A single NuScale small modular reactor can produce approximately 60 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power more than 50,000 homes. Each power plant can contain up to 12 modules, producing 720 MW, enough to power more than 600,000 homes.

According to the design approved by NRC, NuScale’s modular reactors are light-water reactors, similar to the vast majority of reactors now operating. However, the modular reactors are designed to use less water than traditional reactors and have advanced safety features, including self-cooling and a passive automatic safety system that shuts down automatically, without the need for a human operator’s intervention, if something goes wrong.

NRC’s approval NuScale’s design indicates the agency is satisfied the technology is safe and will work properly.

‘Significant Milestone’

With many older reactors reaching the end of their licensed lives and demand for carbon dioxide emission free energy growing, the approval of NuScale’s reactor design is good for the entire nuclear power industry, said John Hopkins, Chairman of NuScale, in a September 2 statement issued after NRC issued its safety evaluation.

“This is a significant milestone not only for NuScale, but also for the entire U.S. nuclear sector and the other advanced nuclear technologies that will follow,” said Hopkins.

Buyers Lined Up

NuScale already has buyers for its modular reactors.

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a coalition of cities in and bordering Utah have formed a coalition to purchase nuclear power from a 12 module NuScale reactor being planned at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

Anticipating NRC’s approval of NuScale’s reactor design, in 2019 UAMPS agreed to purchase more than 150 megawatts of electricity from the INL’s project.

UAMPS is a nonprofit political subdivision of the state of Utah, consisting of cities and special service districts in six states established in 1980 to generate and deliver electric power and affiliated services to its members. UAMPS says it wishes to add nuclear energy to its portfolio as a hedge against price volatility from fluctuating natural gas and renewable energy prices and as a way to maintain grid reliability as regulatory mandates and market conditions force increasing numbers of reliable, coal-fueled power plants to shutter prematurely, to be replaced with increasing amounts of intermittent wind and solar power.

With NRC’s design approval and UAMPS purchase agreement in place, the coalition will now focus on preparing a combined construction and operating license application, which will include an environmental impact analysis, to be submitted to the NRC. UAMAPs expects to complete the license application by 2022.

Barring any unforeseen holdups in the application completion and approval process, NuScale says it hopes to complete its first modular reactor at INL by 2029, with the remaining units completed in 2030.

NuScale reports it has also signed agreements with entities in Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, and Romania to build its small modular reactors to supply energy for their countries in the future.

DOE Backed Reactors

Since 2014, DOE has spent more than $400 million encourage the rapid development of small modular reactors, or SMRs, funding a variety of reactor designs. NuScale’s design is only one so far to gain the Department’s safety approval.

“This is what successful private-public partnerships looks like,” said Rita Baranwal, Ph.D., the assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE, in a statement. “DOE is proud to support the licensing and development of NuScale’s Power Module and other SMR technologies that have the potential to bring clean and reliable power to areas never thought possible by nuclear reactors in the U.S., and soon the world.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute's Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


  1. Great news! Unfortunately, you can bet that the enviro fanatics will attempt to litigate this out of existence. Too bad we can’t have a sensible, rational discussion about our energy transition and REAL alternatives, like SRM’s…

    • Take heart. The physical and economic bankruptcy of intermittents are increasingly self-evident to all, including the mono-ideated fringe dwellers.


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