Source: Times Free Press | Dave Flessner | September 4, 2019

Utility may get permit for Oak Ridge site, but is still cautious on building more nukes

TVA CEO Jeff Lyash / Staff photo by Dave Flessner/Times Free Press.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is poised to receive the first early site permit for America’s first small modular reactors (SMRs) proposed to be built in Oak Ridge.

But TVA’s new president, Jeff Lyash, isn’t rushing to test out the smaller versions of nuclear plants being developed by NuScale Power and other energy companies.

Lyash, who was formerly a licensed senior reactor operator and spent over eight years with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a senior reactor inspector, said TVA has no immediate plans at this time to build any more nuclear plants and probably won’t pursue the Small Modular Reactor project without more federal assistance.

“We will only build if there is a need,” Lyash told the TVA board last month. “Even if we build, we would be very cautious not to put the price or the risk on the citizens of the Tennessee Valley. We would look to this as part of a national strategy to develop this technology.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to vote in coming months on whether to grant an early site permit for small modular reactors to be built on the Clinch River on the same site where the Department of Energy once proposed building a breeder reactor, which former President Jimmy Carter ultimately canceled. An environmental assessment of the 935-acre riverfront site in Roane County concluded there are no safety problems with the site for a nuclear plant, which could help power DOE’s nearby Oak Ridge facilities. The NRC staff conducted a required hearing on the environmental study last month as the final step in the approval process.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a long-time proponent of nuclear power, urged TVA and DOE to develop and build the new reactors in Oak Ridge.

“We need to move ahead to complete the design of and then build small modular reactors and advanced reactors as quickly as possible,” Alexander said in a statement today. “If we don’t move ahead soon, we will lose a valuable source of safe, low-cost, carbon-free electricity and good paying private-sector jobs. I’ll continue to work with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority to help bring a small modular reactor or advanced reactor to East Tennessee.”

Although TVA was the first utility to seek a site permit for an SMR, the nation’s first small modular reactor may be built at the Idaho National Laboratory where DOE is supporting the siting of a 12-module SMR plant by NuScale Power. Since 2013, under a public-private partnership, DOE has supported the design and licensing of NuScale’s SMR, which recently cleared phases 2 and 3 of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design certification process.

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