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Murray Journal

Murray Power looks to tap into nuclear energy

Aug 23, 2018 04:20PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Murray Power’s natural gas turbine may share Murray’s electrical load with a nuclear reactor. (Photo courtesy Murray Power)

By Shaun Delliskave|[email protected]

Murray Power is moving forward with plans to tap into the nation’s first small nuclear modular reactor (SMR)—but not without opposition. Murray Power has, so far, committed $15,000 towards NuScale Power’s reactor, which is in development at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls.

Murray’s main power supplier belongs to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) consortium, consisting of several municipally owned power systems in Utah. Murray City has subscribed to a portion of the nuclear plant’s capacity through its partnership with the UAMPS organization.

Blaine Haacke, general manager of Murray Power, explained, “We have committed presently to 1 megawatt (MW) worth of subscription, and with that 1 MW commitment comes a study cost of about $15,000 for the next budget year. Each year, the projected study costs are evaluated, and UAMPS assesses proportional costs to each of its participant cities.”

The study assessments are distributed through the UAMPS group based on the entitlement subscription that each city has committed to. With the study comes nuclear licensing that can sometimes take up to 10 years and development of the technology itself.

NuScale Power is based out of Corvallis, Oregon and recently completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). NuScale’s reactor is the first and only SMR to ever undergo an NRC review.

Presently, Murray Power receives 35 percent of its power from Colorado River Storage Project (large hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River). An additional 35 percent comes from the Hunter Power Plant, and 2 percent comes from San Juan Power plant, both of which are coal-fired plants. Murray Power also receives 5 percent from a small hydro plant at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and 8 percent from methane captured at landfills (Transjordan and SL County Landfills). Natural gas turbine provides about 10 percent of its needs, with another 10 percent coming from other market sources. Murray has a peak demand of 104 MW.

Diane Turner, chair of the Murray City Council, is leery about Murray’s interest in a reactor using unproved technology. “I have concerns about Murray committing funds to a new energy form that has not yet been proven and is likely to cost billions of dollars. It is my understanding that our initial investment is not that high. However, it is my concern that as we get further into the commitment it will cost much more.”

Watchdog groups have also expressed concerns regarding the new reactor. HEAL Utah, an advocacy group that promotes renewable energy to protect public health and the environment from dirty, toxic and nuclear energy threats, attended a recent city council committee-of-the-whole meeting to advocate for cleaner renewable investments in power and to express their concerns. They argued that renewable energy is more cost-effective and proven technologies already exist.

According to Haacke, “I think we have all seen the cost of renewable energy coming down through the years as better technology and supply and demand business come into play. For example, large-scale solar costs per MW hour are becoming very reasonable. Price isn’t everything though. The important thing to remember is the reliability side of any resource. 

“The proposed small nuclear modular plant to be built in Idaho is totally carbon free, meaning no exhaust, no emission pollutants. The spent fuel will be stored on site, as in other nuclear plants.  Nuclear would be a reliable, 24/7 dependable, carbon-free plant.”

While nuclear lacks carbon emissions, radioactive waste generated by reactors remains toxic for thousands of years. The NuScale reactor has space to store waste for 60 years. Nuclear reactors also draw significantly from water resources.

This is one reason for Council Chair Turner’s reservations. “I don’t know that it is in Murray’s best interest to invest in nuclear rather than making further investments in renewable energy that has been determined to be more environmentally and fiscally sound.”