January 12th, 2017 by Dave Flessner
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced today that it has accepted for review the early site permit application from the Tennessee Valley Authority to build small modular reactors on the site of the abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor scrapped by the federal government nearly four decades ago. TVA submitted the application and associated information in May 2016, and provided follow-up information through the remainder of the year.
TVA, which last year completed the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor and sold its unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant, has no immediate plans to build more nuclear plants. But the utility is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to test the new smaller reactors and the preferred site is on the Clinch River.
Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.
“Accepting the application for review, or “docketing” the application, does not indicate whether the Commission will approve or reject the request,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said.
The move will allow opponents to the proposed new small modular reactors to intervene and request a hearing.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Knoxville-based environmental group opposed to building more nuclear plants, said today it will fight attempts by TVA to pursue the new nuclear plant design in Oak Ridge.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s high risk energy choices program director, Sara Barczak, issued this statement in response to today’s announcement:
“Once again the Department of Energy is repeating past mistakes by pushing a highly speculative nuclear power technology that doesn’t exist in the real world,” said Sara Barczak, a program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This is the same site where breeder reactors were once proposed and ultimately failed, after squandering lots of money. Given there are no certified reactor designs, nor has a thorough review by the NRC of any designs here in the U.S. even been conducted, small modular reactors should be more accurately described as ‘mystery’ modular reactors as there is no rational or economic reason to pursue them.”
Small modular reactors are designed to produce less than 300 megawatts of electricity — only one fourth the size of TVA’s biggest reactors — and are intended to be built in factories with modular designs and installed in small, often underground sites, which proponents believe will be safer and more secure.