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TVA looking to build new, smaller nuke plants

NORTH MISSISSIPPI — The Tennessee Valley Authority has advised nuclear regulators that the utility wants to potentially begin using new and smaller nuclear reactors by 2020.

The Babcock & Wilcox-designed “mPower reactors” would each produce 125 megawatts of electricity, or about 10 percent as much as conventional reactors at TVA’s other plants. TVA vice president Jack Bailey told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the modular design would allow major portions to be built elsewhere, which would help cut costs.

If approved, TVA would be the first utility to build the new reactor design, the newspaper reported.

The design of the mPower reactor is still under regulatory review.

TVA officials said Nov. 10 that a letter sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a first step toward approval to possibly build the reactors on the site of the abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Oak Ridge.

The prospect of using the smaller reactor design has raised questions.

“We are highly skeptical that these modular designs are going to deliver as promised,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “There is a whole set of issues that are likely to be raised about these plants so TVA, the NRC and the contractors should expect a real fight.”

TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the utility is using the two-step licensing approach to allow more flexibility for TVA and the manufacturers of the mPower reactor to change the way the plant is designed and built.

TVA and Babcock & Wilcox declined to release any cost estimates for the new reactors.

Johnson said the Oak Ridge site was deemed appropriate for a nuclear plant in the 1970s when the U.S. Department of Energy planned to build a breeder reactor on the Clinch River site. He said the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which helped develop atomic reactors after World War II, could help support and use the power from at least one of the new reactors.

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