Two or more small nuclear reactors could be safely located on a site in west Oak Ridge, a federal agency said this month.
The reactors could be built on the Clinch River Nuclear Site. That’s a 935-acre site south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site) in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge. The plant would be off Bear Creek Road near Highway 58 on a peninsula surrounded by the Clinch River on the east, south, and west.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed a final safety evaluation report for an early site permit application for the site.
“The report concludes there are no safety aspects that would preclude issuing the permit for the site,” the NRC said in a press release Tuesday. The report, which is about 600 pages, had been expected this month.
The Tennessee Valley Authority applied for the early site permit in May 2016. The NRC’s final safety evaluation report for the site was published Friday, June 14.
The Clinch River Nuclear Site could be used to demonstrate small modular reactors with a maximum total electrical output of 800 megawatts. 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.
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.
The NRC’s early site permit process for the reactors allows an applicant to address site-related issues, such as environmental impacts, for possible future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant at the site.
The early site permit has not been issued for the Clinch River Nuclear Site. A hearing with the NRC is required now that the final safety evaluation report has been published. A hearing date has not been announced yet.
After the hearing, the five-member commission will make a decision about whether to issue the early site permit. If it is issued, the permit will be valid for up to 20 years.
An early site permit is the NRC’s approval of a site for one or more nuclear power facilities. It does not authorize the actual construction and operation of a new nuclear power plant. That requires a construction permit and an operating license, or a combined license.
TVA has not selected a specific reactor technology for the Clinch River site. Instead, TVA used a plant parameter envelope to develop its application. That means the public utility used technical information from various reactor designs to develop parameters that were used to evaluate the suitability of the site for the future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant.
The NRC said its report issued Friday describes the agency’s review of the early site permit application and incorporates comments from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, which recommended approving the early site permit in a January letter to the NRC.
The NRC said its staff reviewed information for the safety report on topics that included:
- site seismology, geology, meteorology, and hydrology;
- risks from potential accidents resulting from operation of a nuclear plant at the site; and
- the major features of the emergency plan that TVA would implement if it builds a reactor at the site.
The NRC said it also reviewed unique aspects of the application. These included requests for exemptions from some offsite emergency planning requirements, including the plume exposure pathway emergency planning zone, as well as a proposed plume exposure planning zone size methodology. A future reactor license applicant could use the sizing methodology to determine an appropriate planning zone for the application’s specific reactor type, the NRC said.
The staff will provide the report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the mandatory hearing later this year. The Commission will conduct the hearing to determine whether the staff’s review supports the findings necessary to issue the permit, the NRC said.
The staff has previously recommended, based upon an environmental impact statement published in April, that the early site permit be issued.
In the conclusion section of its safety report this month, the NRC said, among other things, that:
- The safety aspects of the early site permit application have met NRC regulations as well as standards and requirements of the Atomic Energy Act.
- Required notifications to other agencies and organizations have been made.
- There is reasonable assurance that the site conforms with the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act and the Commission’s regulations.
- TVA is technically qualified to engage in the authorized activities.
- Issuing the permit will not be inimical to the common defense and security or to the health and safety of the public.
“Two or more small modular reactors that have design characteristics that fall within the design parameters for the site, that have site parameters that fall within the site characteristics for the site, and that meet the terms and conditions proposed by the staff in this final safety evaluation report can be safely sited on the Clinch River Nuclear Site,” the NRC report said.
The Clinch River Nuclear Site includes 935 acres within a 1,200-acre property owned by the United States of America and managed by TVA. The site once hosted the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project.
The site is west of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Reservation and bounded on the north by the Grassy Creek Habitat Protection Area. It is about 10 miles south of the urban center of Oak Ridge. Besides Oak Ridge, communities located near the site include Kingston (about 6.8 miles west), Harriman (9.2 miles west-northwest), and Lenoir City (approximately 8.8 miles southeast).
The potential timing of any reactors being built at the site is not clear. Among other things, TVA doesn’t control the reactor certification process.
“There are currently no certified small modular reactor designs available, but TVA will continue working to ensure we are ready to fully evaluate them when they are available,” TVA spokesperson Jim Hopson said in April.
Financial considerations would have to be evaluated, and the TVA board of directors would have the final decision “based on what they believe will be in the best interest of the people of the Tennessee Valley,” Hopson said.
See the NRC’s final safety evaluation report here.
See the NRC’s website page about the early site permit application for the Clinch River Nuclear Site here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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