Ellen Smith for Oak Ridge Rotating Header Image


Enhancing housing in Oak Ridge

Building at Kareday ApartmentsQuestion 4 from the Progress PAC is about housing. My responses are below. For blog posting, I’ve inserted a couple of hyperlinks into the plain-text response that I provided to the PAC.

Question: Healthy housing is important to a healthy community. What three specific actions would you take to enhance housing in the city?


Three actions:

1. We need greater demand for housing in Oak Ridge in order to stimulate investment in housing. The marketing study (and its followup) that I mentioned in response to question 2 is an important step toward building demand for housing in Oak Ridge. Increased investment in existing neighborhoods, particularly in the central part of the city, is particularly important. The plans to redevelop the mall property as “Main Street Oak Ridge” should make a contribution to stimulating demand for homes, particularly in the center of the city.

2. Owners and buyers of existing homes are in need of practical assistance and financial resources so that Oak Ridge homes from the 1940s through the 1970s (the majority of our housing) will have greater appeal to the next generation of homeowners. To help with this, I recently contributed many hours of my time to a cooperative initiative that developed a grant proposal to TVA to obtain funds for “extreme energy makeovers” on about 300 older homes in lower-income neighborhoods in Oak Ridge. If the proposal is successful, this program will reduce living costs for some lucky residents (more…)


Clinch River ‘R Us

Babcock and Wilcox diagram of a small modular reactor assembly

SMR assembly

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.


Small Modular Reactors

Babcock and Wilcox diagram of a small modular reactor assembly

SMR assembly

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.


A big step closer to small modular reactors in Oak Ridge!

Today DOE announced a grant award to Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel for small modular reactor development. The press release doesn’t say so, but TVA’s site for the SMRs is the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project site in Oak Ridge. There were several SMR projects being considered involving different manufacturers and different sites, so this looks like a win for Oak Ridge!


Sizing up the competition

Folks around Oak Ridge are enthusiastic about the prospects for small modular reactors (SMRs) at the southwestern Oak Ridge location known as the “breeder site”, but we need to be aware that there are other project sponsors and communities aiming for financial assistance and quick regulatory review as the first SMRs.  A New York Times blog piece by Matthew Wald reports on utility-manufacturer partnerships in Missouri, Oregon, and South Carolina that appear to be competing with the TVA-Babcock & Wilcox for primacy in SMRs.

Note: The site is called the “breeder site” because it was once destined to become the site of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, a big federal nuclear technology initiative that ultimately was cancelled after initial construction had begun.


YES to household energy efficiency, NO to imposters taking advantage of TVA program

It’s great news for local homeowners that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is promoting home energy efficiency through in-home energy evaluations and rebates for certain kinds of energy improvements. Details are on the TVA website (and there are also tax credits available for work done this year). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that unscrupulous people are taking advantage of this, according to this message from TVA:

Recently, TVA was informed of a situation in which an individual falsely posed as a TVA energy evaluator with the In Home Energy Evaluation (IHEE) program pilot. The imposter gained access to the customer’s home but did no harm. In efforts to prevent this situation going forward, we are asking you notify your customers of this situation and communicate to them that TVA-certified evaluators will not visit homes without pre-scheduling evaluations. TVA is adding the following language to all versions of the IHEE fact sheet as well as the TVA website.

In-home evaluations are scheduled in advance at the request of a homeowner and performed by TVA-certified evaluators. Residents should report any uninvited persons claiming to represent TVA or the local power company to local authorities immediately.

Please share this information with your customers as soon as possible. If you have any questions or need my assistance, please let me know. Thank you for your continued participation and support.

Tom Irwin
Senior Power Utilization Engineer
TVA Comprehensive Services