TVA is Ditching Big Nuclear Units but May Build Smaller Modular Reactors

May 16, 2016 By Ken Silverstein

nuclear-georgia-energy-manageJust as it has put its Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Hollywood, Ala. for sale, the Tennessee Valley Authority has submitted an application to regulatory authorities to build and operate small nuclear reactors near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 

Conflicting messages? Natural gas has undercut nuclear generation on a grand scale. But the small modular reactors, or SMRs, are more affordable and they may help the federal supplier of wholesale electricity feed power to 9 million people living in the region.

“This submittal is a key milestone for our company and the nuclear industry,” said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes. “TVA is the first in the industry to submit any type of application related to SMRs to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission.) It’s a significant event for us as we continue exploring potential SMR technology as a way of expanding our diverse portfolio to ensure a safe, reliable supply of energy for those we serve.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must now review the application. Even then, TVA says that any official construction would not begin for several years, if at all.

Modular reactors can be combined to form a larger unit. When one of the modules goes down, it could easily be maintained while the rest of the reactors continue to operate, so that whole facilities are not knocked off the grid. Each individual module could be refueled in relatively short order.

The cost of a 540 megawatt unit, for example, is about $2.8 billion, not including the fuel. That’s marginally less expensive per unit of output than a traditional nuclear plant.

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