The TVA proposal to build small modular reactors in Oak Ridge on the site that was once going to host the Clinch River Breeder Reactor is one of several interesting developments on the local horizon in recent years. The National Geographic website has a nice little news article about the technology and the proposal — I say “nice” because it does a good job of explaining the SMR technology, its expected advantages, and the issues that still surround it.
The article mentions Oak Ridge, but (as also happened in the days of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project) it doesn’t say that the site is in Oak Ridge. That’s probably OK. In general, the names of nuclear power plants don’t include the names of the towns where they are located. I believe that’s done deliberately to help communities avoid the negative perceptions that surround nuclear topics. (Of course, Oak Ridge already deals with those negative perceptions — that’s not a situation that’s likely to change.) I do hope that TVA remembers that “Clinch River ‘R Us”, so that our community is remembered when the public needs to be consulted about this project and when the benefits of the SMR project (whatever they turn out to be) get passed around.
It seems that I’m not the only one who thinks that the DOE announcement of the small modular reactor project in Oak Ridge was a win for Oak Ridge. At least the folks around the Savannah River Site think it was a loss for them, based on an op-ed column in the Aiken Standard newspaper. The December 28, 2012, opinion piece says (in part):
The Department of Energy’s recent decision to pour millions into a new small modular reactor project in Tennessee is yet another blow to local efforts to save the Savannah River Site from what many fear may ultimately be permanent closure.
Encouraged by DOE and working with the private sector, the SouthernCarolina Alliance and other economic development groups mounted an aggressive campaign to locate SMR research and demonstration projects at SRS. However, DOE’s most recent decision to fund the SMR project in Tennessee instead indicates that this common sense approach to deploy this new technology and create jobs here in our region is not to be.
Instead, DOE has announced it will make a “significant investment” – estimated to be hundreds of millions – in Tennessee in first-of-a-kind engineering, design certification and licensing for SMRs. The funding is part of a five-year cost share agreement with Babcock & Wilcox in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel. The investment is geared toward helping B&W obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing and achieve commercial operation by 2022.
Small Modular Reactors hold great promise for the nation’s energy future. They are about one-third the size of current nuclear power plants, have compact, scalable designs and offer safety, construction and economic benefits.
…The loss of the SMR project to Tennessee should be a wake-up call to all of us. We must take steps now to transform our regional economy by fighting for these new missions, and our communities’ business leaders and elected officials should lead this charge.