BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy, a Utah-based energy cooperative and a contractor that operates an eastern Idaho nuclear research facility announced an agreement Friday involving what would be the nation's first small modular nuclear reactors in eastern Idaho.

The Energy Department's Office of Nuclear Energy announced the agreement with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and Battelle Energy Alliance, the Energy Department contractor that operates the Idaho National Laboratory.

The energy cooperative has been working for several years toward building a dozen small commercial nuclear reactors at the Energy Department's 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Idaho Falls in high desert, sagebrush steppe.

Specifically, the agreement has the Energy Department using one of the reactors for research and development, and another for power needed by the lab.

"This agreement will allow (the Energy Department) 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," Ed McGinnis, the Office of Nuclear Energy's principal deputy assistant secretary, said in a statement.

Each small modular nuclear reactor can produce about 50 megawatts, or enough to provide power about 50,000 homes. Licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the reactors, being built by an Oregon company called NuScale Power, and an environmental analysis of the high desert site where they will be built are needed before construction can start.

LaVarr Webb, a spokesman for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, also known as UAMPS, said that if those hurdles are cleared, the first reactor could be operating in 2026, with the rest up and running within several years of that.

Webb said the deal means power from two of the 12 reactors is now allocated. He said UAMPS will use the power generated by three or four of the other reactors for its members, and power generated by the remaining reactors will be sold to other utilities.

The modular reactors are also part of a much larger federal plan to replace current reactors, many of them decades old, with more efficient and safer reactors. U.S. officials say nuclear power helps reduce carbon emissions from coal and natural gas, a cause of global warming. Along those lines, the modular reactors are also part of the Utah energy cooperative's Carbon Free Power Project.

About 20 percent of the nation's energy comes from nuclear power.

The Idaho National Laboratory is considered the nation's primary federal nuclear research lab and has been working toward creating safer fuels for use in existing and new nuclear reactors. The agreement means scientists at the lab will have access to one of the modular reactors for experiments.

The agreement calls for the Energy Department and UAMPS to work with Idaho Power, a Boise-based utility that has a contract to supply energy to the Idaho National Laboratory.

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