Northern Utah cities that run their own electric utilities are thinking about going nuclear.
Bountiful, Kaysville, Morgan and Brigham City are considering participation in a nuclear energy project proposed to be built near Idaho Falls at the Idaho National Laboratory. The project would be a joint venture with other municipal power suppliers that are part of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.
UAMPS is a consortium of 44 utilities in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, California, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming. Twenty-nine of those are looking at participating in a feasibility study of the project, a UAMPS official said Thursday. All participants would receive matching funds from the U.S. Department of Energy to help pay for the investigation.
The study is part of the Carbon Free Power Project, formed by UAMPS to encourage the deployment of clean electric power in response to the anticipated closure of coal plants nationally.
The Bountiful City Council six weeks ago voted to commit $200,000 to the study and Kaysville decided Tuesday, Sept. 1, it will set aside $148,000. Brigham City and Morgan officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“Nuclear has had a bad name over the years,” said Allen Johnson, an official with Bountiful’s power department, mentioning calamities such as the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan.
But he said the new technology being considered for the Idaho project is hoped to be much safer. The study will consider building 12 small modular reactors, a new design for nuclear power.
“It appears to be so safe,” he said, referring to tests of the technology. “It could run for years to come. The thing I like about it is that it is carbon neutral — no pollution going into the air. It’s sort of the wave of the future. Coal has become a bad word.”
Johnson said NuScale Power, a New York company, is developing the modular reactors.
Kaysville City Council members Tuesday night said they viewed the nuclear power option as a sound, environmentally conscious choice.
Johnson said the technology also may appeal to environmental groups that in the past have been bitter enemies of nuclear power.
“The UAMPS folks have talked to the Sierra Club,” he said. “They are not totally going unglued about it. ... They are saying there may be something to this.”
Lindsay Beebe, organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s Utah Beyond Coal Campaign, said she wasn’t sure what the club’s position was on the technology.
“The Sierra Club has traditionally been against nuclear because of the unresolved waste issues,” she said.
Calls to the national press hotline for the Sierra Club Thursday went unanswered.
Mike McGough, chief commercial officer with NuScale, said the Idaho project would be the first modular reactors in the country.
“We’ve been working on developing this technology for about 15 years,” he said.
He said a one-third-scale reactor has been built and is being studied in Corvallis, Oregon.
“We will use that to do the testing to prove the design,” he said.
McGough said each of 12 reactors would continually produce 50 megawatts of electricity in a self-contained environment without the risks of other forms of nuclear power.
Jackie Coombs, project manager of corporate and member relations at UAMPS, said the Idaho Falls site is not necessarily the final choice for the project’s location. Other sites are being studied, she said, declining to name them.
Coombs confirmed that Brigham City and Morgan were considering participating in the study.