VIDEO: TVA interested in small modular nuclear reactors

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The Tennessee Valley Authority is interested in developing small modular reactors at some point when market and regulatory factors make the small nuclear power units a more realistic option.

That seems to be the thrust of a presentation that TVA Manager for SMR Technology Dan Stout made during a joint workshop in September that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy hosted on advanced non-light water reactors.

His written presentation was recently posted on an NRC website.

TVA is currently wrapping up construction and will soon load fuel on the 1,150 MW Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee. But future new nuclear generation for TVA might come in smaller increments.

TVA currently plans to develop an early site permit application for planned submittal to NRC in the first half of 2016. TVA is evidently looking to get a site permit approval, which is not tantamount to approval for a new plant, for its Clinch River site in Tennessee.

TVA wants to have SMR technology demonstrated by the mid-2020s in order to provide electric generation build options needed in the 2030s. TVA had earlier been interested in the SMR technology from Babcock & Wilcox mPower. Development of that technology was scaled back, however, even before B&W split into separate companies.

For the time being, TVA is not committing to an SMR technology provider.

Currently there is no big rush to develop SMR technology. “It is difficult to justify funding technology innovation and large capital expenditures in an uncertain demand, revenue & regulatory environment,” Stout said in the presentation.

In the current atmosphere, demand is flat and recession recovery is slower than was predicted, Stout said. Customers have changed their electricity use behavior to limit consumption. In addition, “gas prices are cheap and expected to stay low,” Stout said in the written presentation.

But SMRs are attractive for various reasons. Because SMRs are, by definition smaller than today’s full-scale utility nuclear plants, they the capital costs are lower and can be deployed more incrementally.

The SMRs smaller footprint and reduced emergency planning zones lead to more siting options and the opportunity to repower coal plants. SMRs also offer advanced safety and security compared to larger nuclear plants, Stout said.

In addition, NRC is working on making regulatory changes that could accommodate SMRs, Stout said.

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 22 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants.

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