Big setback for the nucle-heads

For something like 70 years, they've been selling the dream of safe, clean, cheap nuclear power. It's never come true. And now the latest version of the dream looks further away from attainment than ever.

An outfit called NuScale, based right here in Portlandia, has been the beneficiary of something like $600 million of federal taxpayer money, and counting, to develop small-scale nuclear reactors to produce power to be sold on the private market. The initial series of reactors, a set of six, was to be built over near the Craters of the Moon Monument in Idaho, next to a spooky, and dirty, federal nuclear weapons operation called the Idaho National Lab. The smaller reactors, just nine feet in diameter, are supposed to be easier to stop when an emergency happens.

But now the costs of the new reactors, even the numbers in the liars' budgets that you see before construction begins, are too much for the participating utilities to handle. The power is going to be too expensive to make it worth their while. And so everyone's pulled the plug on the project.

The project’s collapse was precipitated by rising interest rates and inflationary pressures “that have not been seen for more than 40 years,” according to NuScale. Inflation caused the prices of several component parts to increase by as much as 106% in some cases.

As a result, the project’s cost had increased 75%, to $9.3 billion, and the cost of power had gone up by 50%. Some communities also pulled out of commitments to buy power from the new reactors....

Now that the project is dead,... skeptics say the municipalities should find those cleaner power sources and focus on proven technologies. “One of the stories they’ve kept telling people was that the [small-scale reactor complex] was going to be a lot cheaper than large-scale nuclear,” David Schlissel, an analyst at the nonprofit Institute for Energy Economics and Fiscal Analysis, told WIRED last month. “It isn’t true.”

NuScale says it will soldier on elsewhere – Romania or bust! – but Wall Street is having none of it. NuScale stock has lost more than 80 percent of its value in the past year. At one point cruising at a price of $15 a share or so, it's now down to around $2. The company has been involved in the SPAC world – apparently it merged with a "special-purpose acquisition company" a while back. SPACs are designed to work around those pesky securities laws that protect investors. The resulting companies have a nasty habit of going down in flames; that may be what happens here.

Ah, well. It would be wonderful if safe nuclear power could be developed, even if it isn't particularly clean (because of the nasty waste) or cheap. Carbon-free could be the next gluten-free! But at the rate these guys are going, a safe reactor may not show up in actual operation until it's far too late to save the planet.


  1. Traveled through France last summer. Seemed to be a lot of nuclear power plants over there. Must be a different political climate about energy in that country.

  2. How are our nuclear powered air craft carriers so safe?

    1. When money is no object and management is ruthlessly held to account for any safety issues, nuclear can be quite safe, at least during the operating years. But naval reactors are less power sources than they are power storage cells — the reactors don’t so much make power as they store and then release power that is stored into the fuel during the enrichment process. Naval reactors run on super high enrichment fuel that is in no way economical if you are trying to produce power for use to show blogs and kitty videos.

  3. Safe, reliable, and cheap. If you do everything right, and keep it away from private investors, you can have two. If you leave it in the hands of investor owned utilities, you will only get two if you are lucky. And you’ll get huge bills down the road when they shove waste costs onto others. (See abandoned well costs for oil wells.)

  4. I do IT consulting. Worked at NuScale and BOY was there a lot of problems. One time a group of Chinese tourists, some young girls who were on a dance tour of the US, ended up in the NuScale server room "accidently." Corvallis police couldn't hold them on any charges, FBI wasn't sure what to do, so they were simply released without any fuss and the whole thing hushed up.

    Another time I was involved in a system migration, all of their database and files. During one training this overweight hideous looking incompetent IT woman, probably in her 50's or 60's, starts going off about how the system we're building will never be compliant with federal security standards, so this whole thing is a waste of time, and we ought to just stick on the system they have now. A couple weeks later I'm doing the data migration and I accidently (seriously, typo accident) and I end up in their "super secure" data system (I had global admin access), and it's just an older version of the same platform I'm migrating them to. This was their super secret technical schematics: a old unpatched microsoft file system, it was nothing special at all. That dumb lady was probably the finest IT security person Corvallis, Oregon could summon.


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