ANS Winter Meeting: NuScale CEO on “unfortunate” UAMPS cancellation

November 14, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear News


This morning, just ahead of the plenary session “Space: The (Next) Nuclear Frontier,” American Nuclear Society Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy invited John Hopkins, president and CEO of NuScale Power, to take the stage. The audience knew Hopkins was there not to announce a new contract or business development, but to answer the spoken and unspoken questions that followed last week’s announcement that the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP)—for years expected to be NuScale’s first operational reactor—had been terminated by mutual agreement of the company and its customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS).

Predictably, media headlines have burbled with doubt about the prospects for nuclear energy because one high-profile contract backed by significant cost-shared funds from the Department of Energy had been cancelled—out of dozens of ongoing projects by NuScale and other reactor developers. But those headlines—and the questions of curious ANS members—deserve a response.

How’s the balance sheet? Hopkins began with what he called “level setting” by pointing to NuScale’s third quarter earnings. “Right now . . . from a financial perspective, we have $200 million in the bank. That's cash, no debt. So we have a healthy balance sheet,” he said.

Hopkins flew to the ANS Winter Meeting from Romania, where he is in meetings with NuScale customer RoPower Nuclear. “They just approved the second round of funding for the FEL-2, which is very good for that project,” Hopkins said. “That project in particular is extremely important for our United States government, our industry, and the Romanian government.”

“Very, very unfortunate”: Then Hopkins addressed the termination of the CFPP. “That's been a critical project for a lot of reasons over the years, a lot of good accomplishments came out of that project,” he said, which included navigating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process and getting approval for an emergency planning zone methodology.

Despite that progress, over the years the CFPP has seen cost increases, a delay of expected operation date, a switch by NuScale to larger pressurized water reactor modules (which necessitated a new round of licensing), and a downsizing of project plans from 12 modules to six. But despite those changes the project was moving ahead, with the submission of the second and final part of a combined license application to the NRC anticipated in January.

So, what happened? “There were three conditions that the customer told us about a year ago that had to occur,” Hopkins said. “Now, UAMPS is 50 municipalities in seven states. It's a nonprofit, and there were three conditions that had to be met for the project to continue to move forward. One is they had to obtain the amount of subscription from their customers and their members to move the project. Second, the U.S. government needed to continue to fund, and third, we needed to come in with a price target on a per-megawatt-hour basis. Fluor just completed the Class 2 [project cost] estimate. We just reviewed it. I feel very confident, and Fluor does, [that] we would have met that price target that was required by the customer.”

It was the first of those three conditions—the level of subscription from UAMPS customers—that led to the CFPP cancellation, Hopkins said.

“UAMPS is very, very unfortunate,” Hopkins said. “I really wanted to build and see a module—one module—in the ground at Idaho National Lab, because we had so much support from John Wagner, the lab director, and Rebecca Casper, the mayor [of Idaho Falls]. But it just wasn't meant to be. And so why continue to spend money if you know by year-end that more than likely because of the subscription, the project would not go forward? So, we move on. I've got a good balance sheet. I've got great people. We're reallocating people.”

Reallocating: “We're going to take this to the next step. We're going to be successful,” Hopkins said. “We’re in production right now with six modules in Korea. . . . I want to be able to take those modules and move them over to our next customer.”

“We also made an announcement that you'll be hearing more about in the next couple of weeks,” Hopkins said referring to Standard Power, which wants to site NuScale power plants on two sites, one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania, to provide 2 GW of power for its data centers. “We’re progressing,” Hopkins said. “Hopefully we'll have our master services agreement completed, if not this week next. So it continues to move and I'm extremely excited about this industry right now, or I wouldn't be here.”

Read more from the 2023 ANS Winter Meeting

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