Oak Ridge could be among first to get small nuclear reactors

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended issuing an early site permit for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s proposed Clinch River nuclear site in west Oak Ridge, after the final environmental impact statement was issued.

TVA plans to build at least two small modular nuclear reactors on its 935-acre site on the Clinch River in Roane County, not far from the Bull Run Fossil Plant, which TVA is closing for lack of demand.

Small modular reactor designs not ready

Small modular nuclear reactor designs are not yet available because the technology is still being developed. According to the Department of Energy, small modular reactors will offer the ability to follow varying power demands common in remote areas. They cost less to assemble and have nuclear security advantages over large, traditional nuclear plants.

TVA applied for the early site permit in May 2016, and the first draft of the environmental impact statement was published last year.

In June, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting in Kingston to discuss the project, where the NRC told attendees the small nuclear reactor site’s environmental impact would be small enough to allow the early site permit to be issued.

App makes way for increased scrutiny

The NRC said the application and review process for an early site permit allows regulators and TVA to evaluate and solve safety and environmental issues at the Clinch River site before TVA commits too many resources to the plant’s construction.

There’s no timeline yet for construction. Before it can begin, TVA must seek a permit for the plant’s construction and operation. Cost estimates for the project are not available either because designs do not exist.

A safety evaluation report is expected in June, then the NRC will hold a mandatory hearing on the site permit. If organizations or the public petition the permit, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel will hold a contested hearing.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, Brittany Crocker

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Published April 18, 2019