A federal safety committee has recommended that an early site permit be approved for small modular reactors at the Clinch River Nuclear Site in west Oak Ridge.
The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards recommended the approval in a January 9 letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The letter was signed by Michael L. Corradini, committee chair. The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards reports on the parts of an early site permit application that concern safety. The committee’s recommendation does not appear to have been previously reported.
An early site permit evaluates the suitability of a site for the potential construction and operation of a nuclear power plant. The permit application for two or more small modular reactors at the 935-acre Clinch River site was submitted by the Tennessee Valley Authority in May 2016. TVA said the reactors could generate up to 800 megawatts of electricity.
In a presentation to the Advisory Committee on December 6, TVA outlined what it appears to consider advantages of the Clinch River Nuclear Site: access to 500 kilovolt and 161 kilovolt transmission lines; being a neighbor to the U.S. Department of Energy, an interested customer; strong community support; and access to basic infrastructure and an abundant and skilled workforce. Also, TVA owns and controls the site, the public utility said in a presentation by Dan Stout, director of nuclear technology and innovation.
In its January 9 letter to the NRC, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards said small modular reactors that have the design characteristics that were used by TVA in its early site permit application can be built and operated without undue risk to public health and safety.
TVA did not have a specific plant design for the early site permit application. Instead, TVA has identified parameters for a surrogate nuclear plant, and Oak Ridge Today has reported that the NRC would use them to evaluate the site’s suitability for building and operating a new nuclear plant. The Advisory Committee said TVA received input from four potential vendors: NuScale, Holtec, BWX Technologies, and Westinghouse. That input gave “bounding values” for the construction and operation of light-water reactor-derivative designs for the potential small modular reactors, the committee said.
Small modular reactors, or SMRs, would be smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, and they would produce less power. All of TVA’s traditional nuclear power plants generate at least 1,100 megawatts, compared to the 80-200 megawatts of a proposed SMR. Still, SMRs could provide enough electricity to power several cities the size of Oak Ridge. One hundred megawatts is enough to power about 60,000 homes. (Oak Ridge has about 12,000 homes.)
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 towers associated with traditional nuclear power plants. But they would still use low-enriched uranium.
If the NRC were to approve the early site permit for TVA, it would agree that the Clinch River Nuclear Site was safe and environmentally suitable for the proposed construction and operation of one or more nuclear power plants. But before a plant could be built, either under a combined license or construction permit, the NRC would have to review and approve a specific reactor technology for the site, the Advisory Committee said.
The Clinch River Nuclear Site is just north of the Clinch River and Interstate 40 in west Oak Ridge, south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site), and between Highway 95 and Highway 58 in a bend of the Clinch River.
The Advisory Committee said TVA’s early site permit application addressed issues of site suitability and environmental protection, as well as plans for coping with emergencies, independent of the review of a specific nuclear power plant design. The early site permit application contains more than 8,000 pages, and it is supported by more than 80,000 pages of referenced documents. The NRC started its review in fiscal year 2017.
“The TVA early site permit application benefits from the proposed use of advanced light-water reactor-derivative SMR designs that are expected to exhibit both lower accident frequencies and consequences than the current fleet of large light-water reactors; the large body of knowledge associated with light-water reactor technology, particularly regarding source terms; and extensive light-water reactor operating and licensing experience,” the Advisory Committee said in its January 9 letter. “The early site permit for the Clinch River Nuclear Site should be issued.”
The NRC issued a draft environmental impact statement for the Clinch River Nuclear Site in April 2018. A final environmental impact statement is scheduled to be published on June 21, 2019. A final safety evaluation report is scheduled to be published August 17. (Learn more about the process here.)
See the January 9 letter from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards to the NRC here.
See the December 6 presentation by TVA to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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