Updated at 8:11 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, with more information.
Federal regulators have concluded that there are no safety problems with the riverfront site near Oak Ridge where the Tennessee Valley Authority is considering building a small modular reactor (SMR).
In a 600-page report released Tuesday, the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the abandoned site of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor five miles southwest of Oak Ridge does not present significant seismic, geological or water problems for building one of the new smaller nuclear plants being proposed for future power generation.
The NRC has yet to approve any design for the new type of smaller reactors and any specific proposal for the Oak Ridge site would still require extensive licensing review. But regulators are recommending that the 935-acre site on the Clinch River in Roane County be granted an early site permit after the final environmental impact statement was issued about the property in April.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is proposing the possibility of building at least a couple of new SMRs in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy to help test the new technology. TVA filed a preliminary site permit with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2016 to pursue one of the first small modular reactor designs, but the utility has yet to decide whether it will move ahead with any of the new plant designs.
"SMRs are a next-generation nuclear technology with potential for improved safety and increased flexibility in terms of deployment timing and locations," TVA spokeswoman Malinda Hunter said Tuesday.
Dan Stout, director, Nuclear Technology Innovation, said the NRC report verifies that TVA has met all safety requirements for the site permit.
"Although TVA is years from a decision whether or not to build an SMR, this permit will give TVA flexible options in preparation for future energy needs," Stout said. "Small modular technology can help meet carbon reduction objectives and address critical energy security issues."
TVA's new integrated resource plan, which lays out power options for the next two decades, indicates that TVA's power demand will remain stagnant, or potentially decline, so there will not be a demand for major new baseload power plants.
But TVA has agreed to study the small modular reactor technology as a way to be able to offer carbon-free nuclear generation in smaller increments than the major nuclear plants TVA now operates at its Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry nuclear power plants. TVA is considering building at least two small modular reactors in Oak Ridge, which could replace the power now generated by the Bull Run Fossil Plant, which TVA plans to shut down by 2023.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the NRC staff will provide the report on TVA's permit application to NRC commissioners for a mandatory hearing on the permit, probably later this summer.
The NRC staff issued its Environmental Impact Statement on the application in April. The commission will conduct a hearing to determine whether the staff's review supports the findings necessary to issue the permit.
The commission could decide to grant the early site permit to TVA later this year.
The NRC is currently reviewing a small modular reactor design technology proposed by NuScale Power, which submited the first design certifcation of any SMR in the U.S. to the NRC in January 2017.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340.