U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently said that the Tennessee Valley Authority is “leading on small modular reactors” with its SMR project at the Clinch River Nuclear Site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
“Everybody’s looking to TVA to make sure that this can actually happen,” she said on Dec. 5 in throwing the Biden administration’s support behind TVA’s advanced nuclear technology program.
“Excited to see a shovel in the ground, hopefully in a few years,” Granholm said in a midday visit to the Clinch River Nuclear Site.
“Because of the partnerships that are happening, because of the leadership at TVA, because of the expertise in the region, you’ve got all of the components to make this a success,” Granholm said.
In a press conference at the site, Granholm signaled the administration’s willingness to help TVA defray the cost of deploying the nation’s first commercial SMR.
“The question is how do you bring down the cost of a first-of-a-kind reactor so that you can replicate it and ensure that the next ones in line are low cost?” Granholm said.
“That risk I think is something that has to be shared. That’s the kind of the situation we’ll continue to have here, and that could be one of the roles that DOE plays – is to help bring down the cost.”
Clean energy technology is expected to be a $23 trillion global market by 2030, Granholm said, and the Biden administration is supporting the development of a robust supply chain within the United States.
“If we make it here, we can stamp it Made in America and export it elsewhere,” she said.
Granholm’s visit included a briefing with TVA officials in the operations trailer at the Clinch River Nuclear Site. Local elected officials and TVA partners from labor and state government also participated.
Her visit followed the U.N. climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where the United States was among 22 nations pledging to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.
“We’re going to need to add, in the United States, 200 gigawatts of nuclear power in order to meet that goal,” Granholm said. “Just to put that into perspective, the Hoover Dam has 2 gigawatts of power, so we basically have to build 100 Hoover Dams in nuclear to be able to meet those goals.
“We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to be serious about it. And that’s why the fact that TVA is so far along is so important,” she said.
In their briefing with Granholm’s delegation, TVA’s leaders stressed the importance of advanced nuclear technology in reducing carbon emissions. They held out Clinch River as a highly viable project positioned to spawn a wave of fast followers.
TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash said that for the electricity sector to make a sustainable transition to net-zero carbon emissions, new clean energy technology must be developed and deployed within this decade.
Adding more nuclear power to the generating mix also enhances the integration of solar, he said.
Other benefits of successfully commercializing advanced nuclear technology in the U.S. include energy security, workforce development and global technology leadership in the nuclear space, Lyash said.
The Clinch River site was initially approved for a breeder reactor in the 1980s. In 2019, it was granted the nation’s first early site permit for small modular reactors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The site is construction-ready, with road infrastructure upgrades and a five-lane bridge installed, said TVA’s Bob Deacy, senior vice president for the Clinch River project.
TVA has not yet committed to completing the project.
Rather, it has developed a roadmap for handling the project in phases. Each phase – with its funding requirements – must be approved by top management and the TVA Board of Directors.
The TVA Board voted in early 2022 to invest $200 million in the project. Initial environmental impact work has been completed.
Next year, TVA plans to complete its environmental review and apply for a construction permit.
This year, TVA – in collaboration with Ontario Power Generation, Orlen Synthos Green Energy and GE-Hitachi – agreed to invest in the development of the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 standard design. The design is intended to be scalable in multiple countries.