- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Wednesday indicated it could make an early site determination on the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) application to locate small modular reactors (SMRs) at the 1,200-acre Clinch River location.
- NRC accepted the application in 2016 to consider the site, though currently there are no certified SMR designs available. The NRC is currently reviewing SMR design proposals by NuScale Power as part of renewed interest in nuclear's carbon-free generation.
- On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a new National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), to aid the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies.
TVA officials say the Wednesday hearing was a step forward, but the federal utility has made no final decision about the possibility of developing scalable nuclear power. Whether or not TVA determines to move ahead with the project, it wants to keep options open.
"There is likely to be some additional conversation between TVA and NRC," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson told Utility Dive. "The chairman of the commission mentioned they expect to make a decision in the near future."
Even if NRC signs off on the site, development remains in the early stages as the commission has not certified any SMR designs — though NuScale is making progress.
"We have not definitely decided to deploy reactors to the site, but felt it had enough potential to provide next generation that we wanted to be prepared," said Hopson.
The Clinch River site is not being developed to meet any specific load resource needs. "We're always looking for opportunities," said Hopson.
TVA is also building renewables and considering battery storage, but "they have drawbacks. ... we are just trying to ensure we have all of our options available as we look at panning 10 to 15 years in the future."
There is renewed interest in nuclear power in the United States, particularly in the development of more modern and scalable reactors.
NuScale last month announced the NRC had completed the second and third phases of the review of SMR design, keeping it on track to develop a 12-module plant in Idaho by the mid-2020s. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is signed on to be the first customer for NuScale's proposed reactor design.
As the federal government tries to stimulate more development in the advanced nuclear sector, the new DOE initiative is expected to encourage future SMR applications.
The new NRIC is designed to leverage DOE's national laboratory system in the development of new nuclear technologies.
The center "will enable the demonstration and deployment of advanced reactors that will define the future of nuclear energy," U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a statement.
Idaho National Laboratory will lead the NRIC, which will coordinate with industry, other federal institutions, the national labs, and universities on testing and demonstrating these concepts. The House Energy and Water Development committee allocated $5 million for the center, which DOE said "plans to demonstrate small modular reactor and micro-reactor concepts within the next five years."
Correction: A previous version of this article had the incorrect location for NuScale's upcoming 12-module reactor. It will be in Idaho.