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Duke Energy says cancellation of first commercial small nuclear project won't affect its NC plans

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently approved NuScale's design for the nation's first small modular nuclear reactor. Electricity companies, including Duke Energy, see the technology as a carbon-free alternative to fossil-powered plants.
NuScale
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NuScale
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved NuScale's design for the nation's first small modular nuclear reactor. Electricity companies, including Duke Energy, see the technology as a carbon-free alternative to fossil-powered plants.

The recent cancellation of a next-generation nuclear reactor project in Idaho has prompted concern about the technology's future. But Duke Energy says the setback won't affect its plans in North Carolina.

Oregon-based NuScale Power had planned the nation's first commercial Small Modular Reactor project in partnership with a group of local electric utilities called the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. NuScale's reactor design is the only one to win federal approval.

But last week the partners called off the Carbon Free Power Project, or CFPP. NuScale CEO John Hopkins said too few local utilities agreed to buy power.

"Despite significant efforts by both parties to advance the CFPP, it appeared unlikely that the project would have enough subscription to support deployment. Therefore, UAMPS and NuScale mutually determined that ending the project was the most prudent decision for both parties," Hopkins said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

Some utilities may have been scared off by higher projected power prices and construction costs, which ballooned from an initial estimate of $5.3 billion to $9.3 billion as of January.

Small modular reactors, or SMRs, are a big part of Duke Energy's plans for replacing coal-fired power plants by 2035. They're designed to be smaller, cheaper and easier to build than large nuclear plants. Duke’s latest Carbon Plan filed with North Carolina regulators in Augustcalls for building two SMR projects in the 2030s — one at the current Belews Creek plant in Stokes County and another at a site yet to be named.

In a statement, Duke Energy said it's disappointed at the news but remains committed to both its existing nuclear plants and small modular reactors.

Here's Duke's full statement

"We are disappointed that the Carbon-Free Power Project will not be moving forward but remain committed to pursuing new nuclear to provide our customers affordable, reliable and clean energy solutions and meet the growing energy needs in our communities. At Duke Energy, nuclear is a very important part of our carbon-free future. Our net-zero carbon reduction goals are made possible by extending the life of our existing nuclear fleet and adding next-generation nuclear technologies starting in the mid-2030s. Existing technologies can only get us to about 70% carbon reductions."

Duke and other supporters of building new nuclear plants say they can run nonstop for long periods and generate carbon-free electricity, which is important as electric utilities and states try to eliminate fossil fuels for electricity generation. But there's still the question of what to do with radioactive nuclear waste over the long term.

The question of whether nuclear power should be part of North Carolina's efforts to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation is a complicated one. Even clean energy advocates don't agree on whether it's a good choice.

Read more in WFAE's Feb. 24, 2023, Climate newsletter, "Duke Energy has big plans for small nukes."

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.