Oak Ridge could take lead in new TVA nuclear design, but critics question secrecy, need

The TVA power headquarters and office complex in downtown Chattanooga, center, is surrounded by, clockwise from top left, the Chattanooga Convention Center, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, Warehouse Row, and the Chattanoogan in this aerial photo taken February 19, 2007.
photo Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to reporters and editors Friday at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

More than four decades after the Tennessee Valley Authority abandoned plans to erect a breeder reactor on the Clinch River near Oak Ridge, the federal utility is pursuing another proposal to use the same site for another type of new nuclear power generation.

Next month, TVA plans to ask regulators for permission to locate up to a dozen small modular reactors at the Clinch River site. Backers of the new reactor design say the smaller size make them cheaper, safer and more flexible than current nuclear plant designs.

But none of the four major nuclear manufacturers developing small modular reactors have gained certification for their models and TVA doesn't plan to bring on any of the new smaller units for at least another decade, even assuming they meet outstanding environmental and economic requirements.