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TVA could test Small Modular Reactor in Tennessee

A major American utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), hopes to test a small modular nuclear reactor for power generation.

The TVA Board approved the New Nuclear Program on 10 February 2022, Power Magazine reports. The New Nuclear Program is a systematic roadmap for the TVA’s exploration of advanced nuclear technology.

The TVA will begin the New Nuclear Program by testing a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) at the Clinch River Site in Tennessee. If the test begins, the TVA could be the first public utility in the United States to deploy an SMR.

Not a Commitment to build an SMR

However, TVA CEO Jeff Lyash admits the program is “not a commitment to build” an SMR. Instead, the TVA will make a proposal for an SMR and apply for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The early site permit is permission to test an SMR.

 Lyash admits it will take two to three years to get the permission and design the plant. They hope to have the SMR operating at Clinch River by 2032. Lyash estimates the SMR could cost around $200 million.

The TVA is asking for public comment on a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed nuclear reactor technology park at the Clinch River Nuclear Site in Roane County, technology. The BWRX-300 will be one of the reactors they could test at Clinch River. Roane County is near Knoxville, Tennessee.

The BMRX-300 Small Modular Reactor

The BMRX-300 is a water cooled natural circulation SMR that can generate 300 megawatts of electricity. General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy claims the BMRX-300 is lowest-risk and cheapest SMR on the market.

GE-Hitachi will use advanced technologies to build the BWRX-300. They claim, the BWRX-300 will cost 60% less to build than other SMRs. In addition, GE-Hitachi claims the BWRX-300 can cool itself for seven days without power or operator action. Hence, the GE-Hitachi could theoretically cool itself in an emergency such as a blackout.

GE-Hitachi has agreements to deploy the BWRX-300 in Poland, Estonia, and the Czech republic. In Canada, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) wants to test the BWRX-300 at its Darlington New Nuclear Project by 2028.

Thus, SMRs could be the future of nuclear power. Utilities such as the TVA and OPG are investigating SMRs as part of their plans to decarbonize to combat global warming.

The TVA is not the only American utility investigating SMRs. Rocky Mountain Power a subsidiary of PacificCorp, a Berkshire Hathaway Energy (NYSE: BRK.B) utility plans to test a TerraPower SMR in Kemmerer, Wyoming.