TheTennessee Valley Authorityplans to pursue a permit for a possible nuclear power plant near Oak Ridge,Tenn., that would utilize a smaller type of nuclear technology. The federalutility said it will file an early site permit application in May with the U.S.Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would potentially pave the way for one ormore small modular reactors, or SMRs, on the Clinch River site.
TheNRC on March 29 said it will hold two meetingsin Oak Ridge in mid-April on the process for evaluating early site permitapplications for nuclear power plants, which will include safety andenvironmental assessments to take place during the evaluation. Early sitepermits are valid for 10 to 20 years, with the possibility of being renewed foranother 10 to 20 years, the agency said.
Aseparate license would be required to build and operate a reactor even if thesite is deemed "suitable" for a nuclear power plant, according to theNRC.
Amongpotential advantages to SMR are improved safety and security, less constructiontime and lower financing costs, according to the TVA. The SMR containmentsystems are built completely underground and the smaller size allows componentsto be constructed mostly in factories and be shipped to the site, increasingstandardization and quality, the utility said.
TheTVA has not made a final decision on the construction of SMRs, spokesman JimHopson said in an email. Hopson noted that if the permit is granted, the NRCmust also certify one or more of the SMR designs, after which the TVA board ofdirectors could make a final decision on whether or not to move forward withconstruction.
SMRswere the only form of nuclear energy to qualify as clean energy in a March 2015 executive orderissued by President Barack Obama to cut greenhouse gas emissions from federalgovernment agencies. The executive order applied to the U.S. Departmentof Energy-affiliated research institution Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Theutility has held talks with Oak Ridge about powering the lab with an SMR at theClinch River site.
TheTVA has been one of the most active utilities new nuclear generation. Theutility's Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor was granted an operating license by the NRC in October 2015.
In2014, the utility haltedplans to submit an application to the NRC that would have allowed it to build anumber of small modular nuclear reactors at the Clinch River site. Theapplication for a construction permit for up to six SMRs was placed "onhold" as the TVA waited on action by reactor designer Generation mPowerfollowing cuts ownerBabcock & Wilcox Co. made to the mPower SMR venture.