SEATTLE -- An Oregon company just hit a major milestone in the plans to develop the nation's first commercial small modular reactor.

The U.S. Department of Energy has granted permission for a Utah electric co-op to evaluate potential locations for a nuclear power plant. NuScale, based in Corvallis, Oregon, is leading the way to develop a clean nuclear energy solution.

The company, co-founded by Dr. Jose Reyes, is pushing the new SMR design which it says solves the safety and economical challenges of a traditional nuclear power plant.

"I think it's a real game changer," said Dr. Reyes. "The design is for the reactor to shut itself down, and stay cool, without any operator action."

Reyes believes the reactor can put a big dent in the global energy crisis as the U.S. and other countries work to get away from dirty coal and other polluting energy sources.

"We can't have an environmentally sensitive future, without having nuclear as a part of it," said Mike McGough, chief commercial officer for NuScale.

NuScale's SMR are designed to operate in a facility with up to 12 reactors, producing around 600 megawatts of electricity. A new plant would cost around $2.6 billion according to the company. The power would cost a utility a little more than hydro-electric power which currently powers most of Washington State.

Opponents say, despite nuclear power having little to no carbon footprint, it pollutes in other ways through the mining of uranium needed.

Gov. Jay Inslee formed the Nuclear Energy Joint Select Task Force to examine possible sites for an SMR facility.

NuScale is on track to submit its design certification application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of the year, starting a review process that can take more than three years.

The site for the new plant near Idaho Falls could be under construction by the year 2023 McGough said.