The following are excerpts from our conversation with NuScale President and CEO John Hopkins at the Nuclear Energy Assembly (#NEA2022) in Washington, D.C. The conversation has been edited for brevity. To hear the full interview, check out our video above.

NuScale is a Portland, Oregon-based small modular reactor (SMR) company which aims to revitalize nuclear power in the U.S. and beyond. NuScale is working to commercialize and deploy the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) at the Idaho National Lab (INL) by the end of the decade. The SMR plant would deploy six, 77-megawatt modules to generate 462 MW of electricity.

Q: Let’s talk a little bit about the Carbon Free Power Project. What’s it going to take to get it commercially operable at this point?

Hopkins: Actually, the project is going very well right now. They’ve done more sitings, they’re spending money there. Originally it was going to be a 12-module pack NuScale plant, but then we went through the power up rate to 77 MW per module. What their needs are for coal refurbishment and displacement is six of these modules.

In fact, I’ve got a big meeting coming up here to meet with some of the constituents on July 13th. So it’s going well, we’ve got a date of 2029. We just ordered some long-lead items, such as forgings from Doosan, which is very important, because if you’re going to make these early dates, you’ve got to start ordering long-lead items right now, which is what we’re doing.

It’s going to be the first project, we believe, in the United States for advanced nuclear small modular reactors. We’ve got the supply chain, we got the site characterization done. So barring some unknown, the project is progressing.

Q: Who do you anticipate some of your customers will be as advanced nuclear gains more notoriety?

Hopkins: What I’ve seen happen in the U.S. is coal refurbishment. There are a lot of coal-fired plants looking to come offline this decade in the 300- to 400-megawatt range. It’s a natural for us, our ability to offer six modules, or four modules at 308 MW.

We’re also working very closely with the North American Building Trades currently, because labor is going to be a key component. I’m a technology provider, I’m not a constructor, not a manufacturer. So that supply chain needs to come from here, and our labor needs to come from here. What we’re working with labor right now is our ability to go into a coal-fired facility and look at training manuals to cross-train people that are currently there, into what we’re doing.

Many of these facilities are in remote locations. And they don’t necessarily want to have to pack up and be forced to move to another job when this is a local community that they either grew up in or currently live in. And the cities or the communities also need that tax revenue. So, I think domestically, for advanced reactors in general, that coal refurbishment fossil fuel replacement is going to be really big.

In the overseas markets, again, our first plant we’re looking at right now is currently in Romania. I just got back from there. I’m going back on July 4th to meet with the Prime Minister and others to talk about, how do we get this thing kickstarted. Our U.S. government is very supportive of it. And we wouldn’t be here without the DOE, Department of State and Commerce. They’ve been very supportive of nuclear in general currently, particularly advanced nuclear.

MORE: SMR company NuScale shifts strategy from development to delivery

Q: I want to get back to coal refurbishment. What kind of things are you hearing from coal communities here in the United States about how they could benefit from NuScale’s reactor?

Hopkins: People, typically on nuclear, they’ll mainly gravitate to safety and waste, spent fuel; I call it unused energy. Ninety-six percent of that fuel, if we had the ability to recycle, we could. So, in [coal communities] that have grown around a coal facility, NOx and SOX, it’s really about jobs. They don’t want to have to pack up and move somewhere for 20 jobs when they could have hopefully, a small modular reactor come in use the existing facilities.

It’s not all existing facilities, but many of them we do site characterizations, you find that there’s a lot of the infrastructure like water intake and T&D that you can use on those facilities. So the communities that I’ve met with are very receptive to us coming.

Q: You said that 10 years ago, there was hardly any appetite for SMRs. Pull out your crystal ball: 10 years from now, what do you anticipate?

Hopkins: Ten years ago, as I commented, I wondered what I was doing even getting in this industry, because at that time it was all about economies of scale. They forgot to realize there is economies of small. Two-thirds of the components in a large gigawatts reactor we don’t need as a small modular reactor.

Now what I’m seeing when you come to conferences such as this and others, it’s that large is now the niche; it’s all about small. And there are a lot of companies vying… it’s molten salt or liquid metals or we’re at advanced light water. But in 10 years, if we get it right, and I just want to get one module underground, up and running and show that I’m commercially viable and meet the schedule, the opportunity is going to open significantly.

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