First Commercial ‘Small Modular Reactor’ Canceled; Duke Energy Refuses to Take the Warning

Small modular reactors canceled in the west; why is it important for the pockets of everyday North Carolinians?

Market rejection has forced the cancellation of what would have been the first commercial “small modular reactor” (SMR) project operating for an electric utility in the United States. Predictably, Duke Energy is refusing to hear the warning.

Earlier this month, the only company with a federally-approved design canceled plans to build six SMRs. The so-called “Carbon-Free Power Project” would have been located in Idaho for the utility Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. The cancellation came after eight of the utility systems pulled out. Companies pulled out due to the latest projected jump in its cost to $9.3 billion, compared to an original projection of $4.2 billion.

But less than two months earlier, an article described the SMR design as the possible “next big thing in power plants.” The article explained the theory that the SMRs would be less expensive than conventional full-sized nuclear power plants. Developers expect the project to use six 77-megawatt (MW) reactors for a total of 462 MW. That total is still less than half the output of one conventional nuclear plant, more than 1,000 MW. The article also discussed the ongoing controversy over a study’s finding that the SMRs produce even more radioactive waste per power unit produced than the full-sized reactors.

Meanwhile, here in the Carolinas, it’s still business as usual for Duke Energy. Damn the torpedoes—more nuclear ahead!

Why does this matter for North Carolina?

Duke Energy is a monopoly here in North Carolina, and decides how much we pay each month in bills. This year, Duke will be raising those rates by 18% for some North Carolinians, in part due to the development of nuclear facilities.

Duke immediately reacted to news of the leading project’s cancellation by saying that Duke’s plan for more nukes in North Carolina will not be affected. They’re still committed to building more nuclear plants here using the SMRs. Duke energy plans one of those new nuclear projects at its current Belews plant, a large coal-fired plant in Stokes County, just upstream of the infamous plant responsible for the catastrophic collapse of a major coal ash storage facility into the Dan River.

Duke, one of the most consistent corporate cheerleaders for nuclear power, declared, “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.”

Duke Energy’s misguided carbon plan

NCLCV looked at Duke’s misguided carbon plan, including its ill-advised reliance on SMRs, after it was announced in August.

Duke Energy’s insistence on and unshakeable devotion to nuclear power does not surprise us. After all, Duke bailed out its stockholders time after time by raising electric rates on consumers. The pattern dates back to the 1970s, when soaring costs and overestimated demand produced major cuts in nuclear plant construction—while still costing consumers twice what had been predicted.

Then as now, Duke overstated the case for nuclear power, while low-balling what could be achieved through energy efficiency (and today, by increasingly affordable renewable energy alternatives). Will North Carolina’s citizens tolerate being required to pay for following the nuclear pied piper—again?

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