Source: Knox News Sentinel | Brittany Crocker | May 31, 2018
More than 400 national and regional energy and security leaders have gathered in Oak Ridge for the 23rd annual Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit.
The Tennessee Valley Corridor is a regional economic development organization focusing on science and technology missions. Representatives from 10 Congressional districts in East and Middle Tennessee, North Alabama, Western North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia participate in the summit.
Tuesday night, attendees celebrated the city of Oak Ridge’s 75th and Tennessee Valley Authority’s 85th birthdays with a reception, before reconvening Wednesday morning for industry panels on clean energy, cyber and national security, advanced manufacturing and education.
It all started in the 1980s when Sen. Lamar Alexander was governor of Tennessee. He proposed creating a “science and technology corridor” that would link the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge facilities, University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
To advance his idea, Alexander advocated the construction of a four-lane highway from Oak Ridge to the McGhee Tyson Airport, creating a route along which high-tech businesses could locate and access the corridor’s science and technology resources.
Today that highway is called Pellissippi Parkway.
“We built that highway in order to … create a symbol like Silicon Valley in California and Research Triangle in North Carolina,” Alexander said. “The Oak Ridge Corridor can be a symbol of the brainpower advantage that the Knoxville and Oak Ridge area has.”
Alexander expressed his confidence that Oak Ridge would continue to see high levels of funding in science, supercomputing and materials research.
The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved $3 billion in federal spending for Oak Ridge research, cleanup and scientific activities.
“It’s a clear indication of how this nation values the Oak Ridge facilities,” Alexander said, later adding that President Donald Trump’s skinnier budget requests don’t translate to funding levels on the ground.
“President’s budgets don’t fund anything; Congressional budgets do,” he said. He plans to suggest Trump prioritize science and energy funding in his “America First” agenda.
The new ‘nuclear renaissance’
At Wednesday morning’s session on reviving America’s nuclear power renaissance, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann sang the praises of nuclear energy, which provides the bulk of non-carbonproducing energy sources.
The “nuclear power renaissance” refers to a period not long ago in which lawmakers and scientists alike prioritized nuclear energy for clean power.
Summit attendees want to revive that renaissance, as many of the country’s nuclear reactors near their expiration date.
Many of the reactors currently in the Southeast are expected to start going offline in the 2030s. All of them will be gone by the 2050s.
“America’s nuclear renaissance is something that has to work,” said Fleischmann, R-Tenn. “If it doesn’t, we will fall behind the rest of the world. With the talent in this room, I’m confident we can get it done.”
TVA looks toward its nuclear future
Tennessee Valley Authority Nuclear Operations Vice President Steve Bono aired some of the challenges the utility is facing in nuclear power production.
TVA has three light water nuclear plants on its grid that generate about 7,800 megawatts of electricity each day.
Bono said that for the first time, demand has been flat.
“The perfect example of this goes on every day at Home Depot when you replace a normal light bulb with an LED,” Bono said, expressing that the utility wants to see consumers’ desire for renewable energy reverted to a desire for “clean,” or non-carbon-producing energy that TVA’s nuclear plants provide.
The utility has struggled against energy- efficiency technology that can lower consumers’ utility bills, while also decreasing the funds power companies use to maintain the electricity grid.
In early May, TVA passed its firstever grid-access charge to combat declining revenues. The controversial rate structure change will cut its wholesale power rate by a half-cent per kilowatthour, and impose a fixed half-cent “grid access fee” per kWh instead.
Speakers and panelists talked about advanced and small modular nuclear reactors that can replace retiring light water reactors, and might be be cheaper to build and maintain.
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said small modular reactors are one way to provide clean and reliable power, but because no one has built one yet, they don’t know if it is the most cost-effective approach to maintaining the grid while supporting trends in energy efficiency.
“That will be one of the key factors that we’ll have to consider before making a decision to proceed with the construction of a small modular reactor at the Clinch River,” he said.