The First Small-Scale Nuclear Plant in the US Died Before It Could Live

Six nuclear reactors just 9 feet across planned for Idaho were supposed to prove out the dream of cheap, small-scale nuclear energy. Now the project has been canceled.

Gregory Barber Wired Nov 9 2023

The plan for the first small-scale US nuclear reactor was exciting, ambitious, and unusual from the get-go. In 2015, a group of city- and county-run utilities across the Mountain West region announced that they were betting on a new frontier of nuclear technology: a mini version of a conventional plant called a “small modular reactor” (SMR).

Advocates said the design, just 9 feet in diameter and 65 feet tall, was poised to resurrect the US nuclear industry, which has delivered only two completed reactors this century. It was supposed to prove out a dream that smaller, modular designs can make splitting atoms to boil water and push turbines with steam much cheaper. But first that reactor, the Voygr model designed by a startup called NuScale, had to be built. A six-reactor, 462-megawatt plant was slated to begin construction by 2026 and produce power by the end of the decade.


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