By LUKE RAMSETH, firstname.lastname@example.org
Small modular nuclear reactors were a key topic brought up by local leaders last week on a lobbying trip to the nation’s capital.
Discussions on the trip reinforced that eastern Idaho remains “at the top of the list” to host the nation’s first small modular reactor somewhere on the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site, Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham said.
“That’s a really envied position, by the way,” said Mike Hart, another attendee and part of the local Partnership for Science and Technology organization.
The annual two-day “Community to Capital” trip included six regional representatives who met with Idaho’s congressional delegation, DOE officials, contractor representatives and others involved in nuclear research and development. On Wednesday, four of those attendees — including Hart, Kirkham, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and REDI CEO Jan Rogers — presented at a press conference on what they learned in Washington, D.C.
“D.C. can be kind of an echo chamber, and the value of local input being carried by our elected officials was not lost on them,” Hart said. “It was extremely appreciated, both within the executive branch departments we visited, as well as our own congressional delegation.”
The group met a Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner, and stressed the importance of the small modular reactor project making it through the licensing process relatively quickly, so that it can be ideally finished around 2024. The reactor is being designed by Oregon-based NuScale, and is slated to be built and used by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, a Salt Lake City-based energy cooperative.
“That is not lost on the regulators,” Hart said of having an expedient licensing process. “They understand their job is to regulate, but they also understand the market pressures on NuScale and UAMPS.”
The local officials met with Matt Bowen, a DOE official working on policy and commercialization efforts for small modular reactors. In addition, considering the project’s Utah ties, the group also met with the staff of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“We basically wanted to touch base with the Utah delegation, to let them know we have their back,” Hart said. “That we’re looking, as a community, to host that reactor.”
In talking to several experts on the new type of reactors, the local group learned that eyes will be on eastern Idaho to see if the project succeeds. The first-of-its kind design is thought to be safer and easier to build than traditional large water reactors.
Casper said the local delegation learned that eastern Idaho “should be prepared to host an onslaught of international visitors, who are going to want to come and watch, and see what’s going on.”
Other big topics discussed on the trip include:
• Spent nuclear fuel. The group talked with the Idaho congressional delegation and DOE officials about continued frustration over an inability to send spent nuclear fuel to Idaho National Laboratory for research. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has not allowed the fuel in until cleanup commitments are met.
The local officials said there was widespread discussion on the trip about a future need to “decouple” the radioactive waste cleanup mission of the site and the INL’s research mission in a 1995 state agreement, so that such shipment delays don’t occur in the future.
• The future of a waste treatment facility. The local contingent talked with DOE officials, including Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management Monica Regalbuto, about what to do with the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project after its current mission of treating radioactive waste in Idaho is finished in the next couple years.
One proposal that has been floated is the desert facility’s mission could be extended, and begin accepting waste from other states. DOE officials told the group they are continuing to examine that proposal.