Green groups oppose TVA plan to test small nuclear reactors
- Two environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to intervene in the agency's review of Tennessee Valley Authority's plan to develop small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at a site near Kingston, Tenn.
- The federal utility has petitioned NRC for an early site permit (ESP) to determine whether the site is suitable for two or more SMRs, with a capacity of up to 800 MW.
- TVA has been pushing for more than a year to site small reactors at the abandoned Clinch River nuclear development site.
Several conservation groups led by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are sounding the alarm over TVA's plans to site small reactors at the Clinch River site, allowing the utility to reduce the size of the emergency planning zone around the proposed reactors.
The SMR concept proposes to utilize smaller reactors which can be developed offsite and then constructed quickly. Opponents fear their smaller size may lead to more lax restrictions, and say TVA should be looking to clean energy alternatives.
“The accurate description of what SMRs will actually do for TVA and its customers is squander more resources,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director for SACE. “We hope our intervention will prove successful and prevent TVA from making a bad decision that would cost customers and potentially put local communities and the environment at risk.”
SACE and the Tennessee Environmental Council petitioned NRC, contending the federal utility has not shown it has fully reviewed the risks, including the "safety and environmental risks of spent fuel pool fires, which could have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences."
The groups say TVA wants to reduce the size of the emergency planning zone around the proposed reactors "from the standard ten miles to the site boundary or at most two miles, thereby exempting state and local governments from emergency planning requirements and reducing the level of preparedness for an accident at the reactors."
“TVA expects the public near the Clinch River site to accept on faith that the fantasy nuclear reactors it wants to build there will be so safe that no evacuation plan is needed, even in the event of a core meltdown or a spent fuel pool fire,” Union of Concerned Scientists’ Edwin Lyman said in a statement.
TVA officials told the Times Free Press that they have not yet decided whether to move forward on the Clinch River SMR plan, but part of its mandate as a federal utility is to work with other agencies on energy development. TVA is working with the Department of Energy on the SMR pilot.
While the green groups argue TVA would be better served examining renewable energy, small reactors have been getting attention recently. The hope is that these smaller, more scalable designs could potentially supply carbon-free baseload power to small electric systems and in areas where larger reactors cannot be constructed.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry touted SMRs in his budget testimony before Congressional subcommittees last week. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal includes $20 million for early-state research and development.
"I have a great belief in small modular reactors," Perry told lawmakers.
In January, NuScale Power submitted designs for a new type of reactor to the NRC, which the company said was the first step towards permitting smaller facilities that could be developed and deployed quickly. NuScale said its SMR design is the first ever to be submitted for federal review.
SACE said it expects a response from TVA and NRC staff by July 7, and the group will reply by July 21. NRC is targeting July of next year for a possible final environmental review.
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