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Keith Riddler, Associated Press
FILE - This Nov. 29, 2018 photo shows the Transient Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, in eastern Idaho.

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Energy signed on to take some of the nuclear power from a Utah-led project planned at the Idaho National Laboratory, marking another significant milestone.

A memorandum of understanding was recently inked among the federal energy agency, which owns the lab, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and Battelle Energy Alliance, the contractor managing the lab.

Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Energy will take the planned nuclear power produced out of two of the 12 small modular nuclear reactors — one to power the laboratory itself and the other to research integrated grids that use electricity and non-electricity energy products.

"This agreement will allow DOE to meet its needs in the form of resilient power to a national security mission-based lab while drawing from our nation’s newest class of advanced reactors,” said Ed McGinnis, the federal agency's principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Nuclear Energy.

Keith Ridler, Associated Press
FILE - In this May 11, 2015 file photo, nuclear waste is stored in underground containers at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“The (Joint Use Modular Plant) program provides a unique opportunity for the nation’s leading nuclear laboratory to conduct nuclear energy research, and contribute to the successful commercialization of the nation’s first (small modular reactor)."

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a governmental entity that provides electrical energy services to 46 community-owned power systems in Utah and five other states, is pursuing the development of a 720-megawatt in-ground modular nuclear power plant to shore up its energy portfolio as coal-fueled energy comes under increasing pressure.

Oregon-headquartered NuScale developed the technology and submitted its design for licensing now under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We appreciate the confidence and support of the Department of Energy and the Idaho National Laboratory represented by this agreement," said Doug Hunter, CEO and general manager of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.

"Reserving a second small reactor module for research and development will allow the lab to do what it does best — conduct world-leading research and innovation leading to abundant, carbon-free energy."

Licensing requirements are expected to be completed by 2020.

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Proponents of the small modular reactor system say its self-cooling features, its ability to shut down without operator or computer actions and remain cooled for an unlimited period of time makes it far different than traditional nuclear power plants.

Critics worry about the plant's requirement for water use and risks that come with waste storage and the economic feasibility of the system itself.

Hunter said the four acres of the 34-acre site at the Idaho National Laboratory have been set aside for waste storage, with the ability to handle 60 years worth of waste.

Hunter has said he believes the plant will stabilize electric rates for members for up to 40 years.