PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon company is changing the way we think about nuclear power and it's doing it with smaller, cheaper and safer nuclear reactors.

The company behind these very different kinds of nuclear reactors is called NuScale.

It started inside an Oregon State University lab in Corvallis two decades ago. Unlike the large above-ground nuclear reactors we're used to seeing, NuScale designed a much smaller reactor that sits underground and underwater.

The design, the company says, would be able to withstand not just an earthquake, but also a hurricane. And the structure on top of it would be built tough enough to withstand a 747 crashing into it, the company said.

But according to the company, the most important aspect of these reactors is that they can replace existing coal facilities with a totally carbon-free alternative. And unlike solar and wind energy, they could generate electricity 24 hours a day.

"Carbon-free electricity is one of the major benefits of it," said NuScale CFO Jay Surina. "The carbon footprint of this plant is very small...once it's built there are no emissions from it."

And with more than 100 older nuclear power plants in operation across the country, the company sees their smaller reactors as safer replacements that would produce much less waste.

The company, which started with just a few people, has grown to more than 350 employees and is getting ready to sign contracts to move forward on its very first project.

That project is a small-scale nuclear plant in Idaho. If all goes as planned, the plant will go online in 2026. Some of the electricity generated will likely power homes in Eastern Oregon.

NuScale is also in discussions with utilities overseas for future projects.