TVA Looks Into Building “Modular” Nuclear Reactors In Oak Ridge

Image: The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bob Deacy shows US Department of Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm the site of a future nuclear reactor in Oak Ridge. Image Credit: Benjamin Pounds

By Benjamin Pounds [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the site of a possible first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Oak Ridge, Tenn. on Tuesday. 

The utility’s board authorized $200 million to explore building a reactor on the site last year after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave TVA an early site permit in 2019.

This first-of-its-kind small modular reactor would be smaller than standard nuclear reactors and generate less power, but it would have other advantages. While typical nuclear power plants need to provide power at 100 percent of their capacity constantly, a small modular reactor can more easily increase or decrease the amount of power it provides to the overall grid. Melinda Hunter, TVA nuclear communication specialist explained that this flexibility can complement renewable plants elsewhere in the TVA grid.


“When the sun’s not shining, you can bring the power up,” she said, adding that during sunnier periods the small modular reactors can provide less power.

TVA CEO Jeff Lyash said the utility will likely start building its first reactor on the site in 2027 and finish by the early 2030s. TVA is looking to build four of these reactors on the site, but it’s not made a final decision on the first one yet. Each reactor would generate 300 megawatts.

Granholm stressed the small modular reactor’s importance for the Biden Administration’s priorities of the U.S. becoming carbon neutral by 2035 and reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. She also said it fit the U.S. and other countries’ commitment at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to triple nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050. Granholm said the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, gave tax credits for nuclear power projects.

“We basically have to build a hundred Hoover Dams in nuclear to be able to meet those goals,” she said. “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.”

Granholm praised U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann R-Tenn., who was not present, and a “magic elixir of partners” including companies from Canada and Poland for their support for the project.

“Thank you to you all for allowing the United States to have clean power well into the future,” she said. She said the project will generate local jobs and give lower cost energy and energy security.

“We’re really interested in making sure the United States is not waiting or relying on international fossil fuel agencies to provide power. We want to provide clean power at home,” she said.

Granholm said she supported TVA’s retirement of coal plants, which recently included Bull Run Fossil Plant near Oak Ridge. She described TVA’s proposed expansion of natural gas plants as “a bridge” to other methods.

“I’m hoping that they’ll keep their mind open about technology expansions in nuclear and clean hydrogen, in energy storage and I know they’ve got a big push in solar for example. That’s what we like to see, and so I think TVA has an open mind,” she said.

Lyash said 42% of power from the utility came from nuclear energy. He said demand for power was increasing and the utility will need to add nuclear reactors just to keep that percentage the same.

2 thoughts on “TVA Looks Into Building “Modular” Nuclear Reactors In Oak Ridge

  • December 6, 2023 at 6:55 pm

    I’m not against nuclear power per se. I am against more expansion until the problem of nuclear waste is solved. Sticking in salt mines that will be contaminated for eons in not the answer. I don’t know the answer but I do know creating more waste without a solution that protects the future is unwise.

  • December 13, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    From what I’ve read it takes less than 6 yrs to build a modular site.
    Politicians and bureaucrats add several yrs to that.
    The CURIE method of reusing nuclear waste is stunning.
    The Tn legislature needs to make this a priority.
    A senate/house select committee needs to hv a public hearing b4 the end of this next session.
    In less than 20yrs we could hv a modular plant in each of the three regions of Tn.

    Ofcoarse the Tn uniparty has no imagination or drive to make Tn a retailer of power supply to other states.

    Huge issue is the hardening of infrastructure that was recommended by the 911 commission.

    We’ve seen recent internet invasion by China on important systems.

    Which proves McConnell and Schumer have failed America by spending billions on favorite pet donors in stead of securing our country.


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