The future of nuclear energy is being discussed at an international conference in Atlanta Thursday and Friday. And there is heavy presence from the Northwest at the gathering.

Mike McGough, chief commercial officer of Oregon-based NuScale Power, gave the keynote address to the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit. NuScale is leading the charge to develop a new generation of small modular reactors that are billed as cheaper, safer and faster to build.

McGough presented a detailed timeline for deployment of his company’s first plant outside Idaho Falls on the grounds of the Idaho National Lab.

“It will be commercially operational in middle of 2024,” McGough said. “I know that is eight years from now. That seems like a long time, but in the space of what we’re doing in the technology development and deployment, it’s actually quite short.”

First though, NuScale has to get design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a process that involves a 12,000 page application to be submitted this fall followed by three or more years of review.

McGough said Richland, Washington-based Energy Northwest has signed up to operate the initial NuScale commercial project. McGough said Energy Northwest eventually wants to co-locate a modular nuclear plant next to its longstanding commercial nuclear reactor at Hanford.

A wholesale electricity provider to utilities in the Intermountain West called Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) will own NuScale’s first plant. NuScale is headquartered in Portland and has a large engineering office in Corvallis.

McGough told conference attendees that his company is currently spending $12 million per month to create, test and license its design. He estimated the entire development process will cost $1 billion by the time it is through. Funding is coming from a combination of private investment and government grants.

Also speaking at the nuclear energy conference in Atlanta was state Sen. Sharon Brown from Kennewick, Washington. For the past several years, Brown, a Republican, has sponsored legislation to promote small modular reactor manufacturing and siting in Washington.

Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station is the only commercial nuclear reactor currently operating in the Northwest. The 1,190-megawatt reactor can power a city the size of Seattle.

By comparison, NuScale Power’s factory-built small reactors are designed to produce about 50 megawatts of emission-free electricity per module. Multiple modules can be combined to create a larger power plant, which is UAMPS’s intention at the eastern Idaho project.