The Tennessee Valley Authority submitted an application last May for an early site permit for small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs, at the Clinch River Site in west Oak Ridge.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, accepted the application for “docketing and detailed technical review” in December.
The early site permit application is for two or more SMRs.
A specific reactor design has not been selected. The NRC said TVA has identified parameters for a surrogate nuclear plant, and the NRC will use them to evaluate the site’s suitability for building and operating a new nuclear plant.
“If NRC determines that the site is suitable for the building and operation of a new nuclear plant, prior to building and operation of a plant at the site, NRC would need to review and approve an additional application from TVA (either a combined license (COL) or a construction permit (CP)) that includes a specific reactor design,” the NRC said on its website.
The project’s timeline, which includes a detailed technical review, is now in the hands of the NRC, and it will likely take several years, TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks said Friday.
Officials have previously said it could be a decade or so before the SMRs start operating— and that’s assuming all goes according to plan.
The NRC has an April 5 target date to establish a review schedule and send a schedule letter to TVA.
TVA is evaluating the possibility of building the small modular reactors, or SMRs, at the 1,200-acre Clinch River Site. That site is in west Oak Ridge just north of the Clinch River and Interstate 40, south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site), and between Highway 95 and Highway 58 in a bend of the Clinch River.
In May, TVA said the small modular reactors offer clean energy technology that, if deployed, would “play a key role in TVA’s continued mission of energy, environment, and economic development for the nine million people of the Tennessee Valley. The application positions TVA as an industry leader for potential development of the technology.”
Submission of the early site permit application is a key milestone for the company and the nuclear industry, said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes.
“TVA is the first in the industry to submit any type of application related to SMRs to the NRC,” Grimes said in May. “It’s a significant event for us as we continue exploring potential SMR technology as a way of expanding our diverse portfolio to ensure a safe, reliable supply of energy for those we serve.”
The NRC will use the application to review site safety, environmental, and emergency preparedness requirements for potential construction of the next-generation nuclear technology.
“This is the next big step in evaluating the suitability of the Clinch River site for potential future construction and operation of SMRs,” said Dan Stout, TVA senior manager for small modular reactors.
TVA said its exploration into SMR technology is in line with the “company’s mission for technological innovation as part of its continuing efforts towards cleaner and more diversified energy generation.” The application and subsequent work on the review and approval process is co-funded under an interagency agreement between TVA and the U.S. Department of Energy.
“The submittal of the permit is firmly aligned with the key strategic DOE goal of accelerating SMRs into the domestic marketplace,” TVA said.
“We’re still several years away from any potential construction decision,” Stout said. “However, the application process helps pave the way for TVA to expand on its mission of environmental stewardship through clean energy development and for DOE to support licensing and siting requirements for U.S.-based SMR projects.”
Officials have previously said the review of TVA’s application for an early site permit could take about three years, and maybe longer if any groups raise legal challenges. There are expected to be at least two more public meetings once TVA meets the basic requirements to have its early site permit application reviewed. Officials said the NRC will come back to ask for community input on environmental issues.
As of the April meeting with the NRC last year, there were no SMRs certified by the NRC, but it’s not clear if that has changed. Officials have said a design certification could take about four to five years.
It’s not clear yet how many SMRs could be built in Oak Ridge, but officials have previously said it could range between two and six. TVA said last year that SMRs are designed to be used in groups, but no decision has been made about the number that could be built here.
Unlike a traditional nuclear power plant, SMRs could be produced in a factory and transferred to a site by trucks or railroads. They wouldn’t have the hyperbolic cooling tower associated with traditional nuclear power plants. But they would still use low-enriched uranium.
The proposal to build small modular nuclear reactors, possibly including in Oak Ridge, has been in the works for a number of years. The Clinch River units could be, depending upon the timing, the first commercial reactors of their type in the United States.
See TVA’s announcement of its early site permit application here.
See the NRC’s announcement that the application had been accepted for docketing and detailed technical review here.
See previous story on the proposed SMRs here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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