Review begins for first US SMR site

16 January 2017

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has welcomed the acceptance for regulatory review of its early site permit application for the Clinch River site in Tennessee as a milestone towards the potential use of small modular reactors (SMRs) in its operating fleet.

An aerial view of the Clinch River site (Image: TVA)

The docketing of the application by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on 30 December was formally reported in the US Federal Register on 12 January. The NRC may now begin its technical review of the application, during which NRC staff will address site safety and environmental protection issues, as well as plans for coping with emergencies, independent of the review of a specific nuclear plant design. It will also prepare an environmental impact statement and hold a public hearing.

An early site permit, or ESP, certifies that a site is suitable for the construction of a nuclear power plant from the point of view of site safety, environmental impact and emergency planning, but does not specify the choice of technology. The permit is valid for ten to 20 years, renewable for an additional ten to 20 years.

TVA submitted its application for two or more SMR modules of up to 800 MWe at 1200 acre (486 hectare) site near Oak Ridge in May 2016. It was the first SMR-related application of any type to be received by the NRC.

SMR units, typically with a capacity of 300 MWe equivalent or less, are designed using modular technology and factory fabrication. This allows for economies of series production and short construction times. Multiple units can be installed at one location to provide the total required capacity. Such reactors are seen as potentially offering improved safety and security, as well as more standardisation, more site options and lower financing costs compared to conventional light-water reactors. TVA says SMRs could provide an important option for clean baseload energy for its generation portfolio.

Dan Stout, TVA senior manager for SMRs, said the NRC's acceptance for review of the ESP application was a milestone for TVA and its nuclear team. "SMR technology offers us greater flexibility to generate electricity that is clean, reliable and low-cost to meet the demands of the homes and businesses across the Tennessee Valley," he said.

Any decision to build SMRs at Clinch River is still "several years" away, with "several evaluations and business decisions" to be resolved before it would commit to such a project, the company said. "Nevertheless, the NRC's docketing of TVA's early site permit application moves the nuclear industry closer to potential commercialisation of the technology."

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting the development and commercialisation of SMRs, which it sees playing an important role in addressing the country's energy security, economic and climate goals. TVA's ESP application has been developed with the support of the DOE SMR Licensing Technical Support program, which has also provided cost-shared financial assistance through an interagency agreement. The five-year agreement, finalised in July 2015, will also support a combined construction and operating licence (COL) application.

The DOE program was launched in 2012 to accelerate the progress of SMR technologies into the marketplace. It is supporting Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power in securing design certification for its SMR design, for which the application was submitted on 31 December.

As well as TVA's siting project, the DOE also in 2015 awarded a three-year cooperative agreement to NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to conduct site characterisation activities and to prepare documentation that will lead to a COL application. The first commercial 12-module NuScale power plant is planned to be built on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory. It will be owned by UAMPS and operated by Energy Northwest.

US government-owned TVA operates the Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear power plants.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News