Group lobbies against subsidies for reactors at INL

May 23, 2018

Six members of an Idaho nuclear watchdog group are in Washington, D.C., to lobby federal officials to get rid of subsidies for the small modular reactor project at Idaho National Laboratory.

The delegation from the Snake River Alliance is led by the group’s nuclear program director, Beatrice Brailsford. They planned to meet with U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo on Tuesday and with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch on Wednesday, the group said in a news release.

They are in Washington as part of “DC Days,” a yearly lobbying event organized by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. The Idaho group is pushing to end federal subsidies for NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems’ proposal to build 12 small modular reactors at INL’s desert site west of Idaho Falls.

“We’re asking Congress to stop pouring money into modular nuclear power plants,” Brailsford said in a statement. “It’s too late for nuclear technology, so let’s stop wasting public money and Idaho water.”

The project is before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission now, with final approval expected in fall 2020. NuScale expects the reactors to be operational in 2026. NuScale got $40 million in subsidies in 2018 and is in line to get more under the 2019 energy budget that passed committee last week and is awaiting a full House vote. The Snake River Alliance said taxpayers will end up paying at least half of the $4.2 billion cost of the project. Fluor, the contractor in charge of waste cleanup at INL, is the majority investor in NuScale.

While it remains to be seen how these lobbying efforts will go and whether the funding will remain in the final 2019 budget, all three Idaho lawmakers have so far been publicly supportive of the small modular reactor project. Crapo and Risch co-sponsored legislation last year to direct the U.S. Department of Energy to partner with private industry to test advanced reactors. Simpson, who as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, has some control over the site’s budget, put out a news release last week on the proposed 2019 energy budget that highlighted, among other INL-related items, $100 million for advanced small modular reactor research and development. The project also has local and state government support; earlier this year the Idaho Legislature passed two tax breaks meant to aid it.

ANA delegations from 20 states plan to meet with more than 80 members of Congress, committee staffers and administration officials responsible for U.S. nuclear policies. Their agenda includes opposing programs that generate additional radioactive waste, such as the modular reactors, and supporting “adequate cleanup at Department of Energy nuclear weapons sites, including the INL,” according to the news release.