The Department of Energy awarded $4.6 billion last year to bolster emerging small modular and advanced nuclear reactor projects that seek to avoid the cost overruns and safety risks of large nuclear plants. A Government Accountability Office report calls for external independent reviews of the first three projects DOE is funding along with documentation of the Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Office of Clean Energy Demonstration’s project management.
That “would allow DOE to share best practices across offices during the course of these multi-year awards, potentially resulting in stronger federal oversight of the projects and improved project performance,” states GAO’s report released Sept. 13.
In 2021, DOE awarded $1.4 billion for a small modular reactor (SMR) project under an agreement between NuScale and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems in Idaho. The six 77 MW units are projected to come online in 2029. NuScale is the first SMR developer in the U.S. to go public, but skeptics warn if faces financing, cost overrun, and safety challenges.
DOE also awarded TerraPower close to $2 billion for the NatriumTM Demonstration in Wyoming at a closing coal plant and $1.2 billion to X-energy for the Xe-100 Demonstration in Washington State.
The need for carbon-free energy is projected to drive the growth of small modular reactors, or SMRs, alone. By 2050, 300 of them are expected to be online, supplying 731 TWh of power, according to a survey by the Nuclear Energy Institute released in early August.