TVA Clears Next Hurdle for Small Modular Reactors

JANUARY 13, 2017—The potential for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s operating fleet reached another milestone this month. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted and docketed the utility’s early site permit application for the potential construction and operation of multiple SMR units at the Clinch River Site in Oak Ridge, Tenn. (shown below). This action means that the NRC staff may now begin its technical review of TVA’s application.

aerial shot of the clinch river

“This is a big accomplishment for TVA and our nuclear team,” says Dan Stout, TVA’s senior manager for Small Modular Reactors. “Achieving this milestone means the quality of the application achieved the NRC’s high standards.”
SMRs are a next-generation nuclear technology that, if deployed, would play a key role in TVA’s continued mission towards environmental stewardship through clean energy development.
Development of the ESP application was made possible through the continuing support of the Department of Energy's (DOE) SMR Licensing Technical Support program, which has provided cost-shared financial assistance through an interagency agreement. DOE’s program was initiated in 2012 to accelerate safe, innovative SMR technologies into the marketplace to meet the economic, environmental and energy security goals of the nation.
“SMR technology offers us [TVA] greater flexibility to generate electricity that is clean, reliable and low-cost to meet the demands of the homes and businesses across the Tennessee Valley,” says Stout.
According to TVA, there are several evaluations and business decisions that remain before the utility would commit to building SMRs at the Clinch River Site; a decision that is still several years away. Nevertheless, the NRC’s docketing of TVA’s early site permit application moves the nuclear industry closer to potential commercialization of the technology.
“We are pleased with the NRC decision, and intend to support them in a manner that makes their review as efficient as possible,” Stout says. “Our focus remains on safety as we continue to evaluate SMR designs and work to develop nuclear power plant options.”
This announcement comes on the heels of commercial operations for the utility’s Watt Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor—the first new nuclear power to join the American energy grid in the 21st century, and capable of generating enough energy to power 650,000 homes.
TVA currently operates three nuclear plants capable of generating more than 8,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity—enough to power approximately 4.5 million homes. According to TVA about 55 percent of electricity produced in the Tennessee Valley is carbon-free. The company has plans to increase the percentage of carbon-free electricity to over 60 percent by 2026.

Read More About Small Modular Reactors

Small Modular Reactor containment systems are constructed fully underground, resulting in improved safety and security. The smaller size enables components to be shipped to the site by rail or truck, allowing more of the construction to take place in factories. This process increases standardization, improves quality and shortens construction durations. Advantages include improved safety and security, reduced construction time, more standardization, smaller footprint and lower financing cost. Read more about the advantages of small modular reactors.