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NRC Approves Early Site Permit for SMRs at TVA’s Clinch River Site

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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TVA became the first utility in the nation to successfully obtain approval for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to potentially construct and operate small modular reactors. SMFRs are a carbon-free energy alternative that aligns with TVA’s mission to pursue innovative technologies.

The 20-year permit, referred to as an Early Site Permit, approves the 935-acre Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tenn. for a nuclear facility that can produce up to 800 MWe total. TVA cited four SMR designs in its ESP application without stating a preference for any of them. An 800 MWe power station would likely require multiple units from any of the current SMR designs.

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“The early site permit is a significant step in the potential development of small modular reactor technology,” said Dan Stout, director, nuclear technology innovation at TVA. 

“Although we have no plans to build at this time, this permit will give TVA flexible options to prepare for future energy needs.”

Small modular reactors are a next-generation nuclear technology with potential for improved safety and increased flexibility. Less than one-third the size of a conventional reactor, SMR designs offer more standardization, reduced construction times and the ability to deploy in smaller increments.

TVA applied for an early site permit in 2016, and the NRC began formally reviewing the 8,000-page application in January 2017. The application addressed the site safety, environmental and emergency preparedness requirements to determine approval of the site.

TVA will have up to 20 years, with a possibility of an extension, to make a decision to pursue the construction of small modular reactors. Another NRC application is required to build and operate this kind of facility.

The wire service NucNet reported that the permit does not authorize any construction activities regulated by the NRC. No SMR designs have been approved and the TVA board has not yet approved building and new nuclear reactors. TVA would need to apply separately for an NRC licence to build and operate a reactor at the Clinch River Nuclear Site.

The permit includes additional provisions, including approved analysis methods, that deal with the NRC’s emergency preparedness regulations. This could allow a future licence applicant at the Clinch River site to request an emergency preparedness zone smaller than those found at current US nuclear power plants.

The US Department of Energy is supporting the TVA project through an agreement which can reimburse the utility for up to 50% of eligible costs.

TVA operates the Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear power stations, which between them have seven nuclear power units.

TVA’s Decision Process to Build an SMR

“We’ve been working with the Department of Energy to partner on this innovative nuclear technology,” Stout said. 

“The decision to build will be based on energy needs and economic factors – we want to make the best decision for the people of the Valley,” said Chief Nuclear Officer Tim Rausch.

“SMRs are more attractive where load growth is slow, and they provide a more affordable option than the higher up-front capital costs associated with larger nuclear facilities,” said Stout.

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