More nuclear power needed in the future to meet carbon reduction goals, TVA CEO says

Once the most ambitious developer of nuclear power in the United States, the Tennessee Valley Authority hasn’t started building a new nuclear reactor in nearly half a century.

But that could change soon. TVA President Jeff Lyash said Thursday before a Senate panel examining the future of nuclear power that he hopes TVA will put new small modular reactors online in Oak Ridge over the next 11 years, even if the federal utility is the lifespan of its existing fleet of seven reactors extended for decades in the future. “

“Our plan is to have a small modular reactor (SMR) on the Clinch River (in Oak Ridge) by 2032,” Lyash told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “Our Clinch River site is the only site in the nation with an NRC-approved early site permit for small modular reactors. This effectively eliminates a number of risks that have previously halted or delayed many nuclear projects.”

Although TVA was not selected last year to receive government support to develop one of the first test sites for small modular reactors, TVA continues to have plans to potentially host multiple SMRs on the 935-acre, abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor site in Anderson County erect. TVA is currently conducting an environmental review of the new advanced nuclear technologies, which are simpler, more flexible and less expensive to build than the current generation of billion dollar nuclear power plants.

The TVA board has not yet approved the construction of additional nuclear reactors, and the proposed new small modular reactors at Oak Ridge continue to depend on an assessment of TVA’s facility, SMR technology and power needs. But Lyash and other nuclear power leaders expressed support for more nuclear power during the congressional hearing on Thursday to provide the energy necessary to meet President Biden’s goal of building a “zero-carbon electricity sector by 2035” and up Achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“Nuclear power will be critical to accelerating the decarbonization process without sacrificing reliability or cost, and TVA is an industry leader in expanding nuclear power generation,” said Lyash.

Nationwide, the number of commercial nuclear reactors in operation has been or will decrease by more than 10% since 2014, as energy providers switch to natural gas and other power sources in the grid. However, a majority of the Democratic and Republican Senate Energy Committee members hope that new and cheaper nuclear technologies can be developed in the United States to produce carbon-free electricity at competitive costs for consumers and help America maintain its electricity leadership in global leadership of nuclear energy

“Both Russia and China have made strategic efforts in recent years to replace our nuclear leadership and we have to push back,” said US Senator Joe Manchin, West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “We cannot afford to hide this carbon-free energy resource.”

Staff photo by Dave Flessner / The Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant on the Tennessee River near Soddy-Daisy has two of the seven nuclear reactors operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA is considering adding new smaller nuclear reactors in Oak Ridge by 2032.


In the 1960s and 1970s, TVA began plans to build 18 nuclear reactors in seven different locations. Ultimately, however, only seven reactors were completed at three sites in Tennessee and Alabama, including the last new commercial reactor added to the US nuclear fleet in 2016 when the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant was completed.

TVA remains America’s third largest nuclear utility, generating 42% of its electricity from nuclear power last year – more than double the US average of 20%.

Anti-nuclear activists insist that nuclear power is too costly and dangerous and that future energy needs could be met by more renewable energy sources such as sun and wind, as well as better energy conservation. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Sierra Club nuclear-free team, and the Tennessee Environmental Council have objected to TVA prosecuting small modular reactors that have not yet been proven or licensed.

“Regardless of the design, nuclear power is old technology clad in new clothes to save the nuclear industry,” said Sandra Kurtz, a Chattanooga environmental activist who serves as co-president of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “In addition, nuclear power does not help with climate change because it takes too long to build and is not reliable at ever hotter temperatures and probably less water availability.”

However, US Senator Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and the senior member of the Senate Energy Committee, said nuclear power has proven to be a safe and reliable source of energy over the past 75 years, and “too often nuclear shutdowns lead to it.” Carbon emissions increase and electrical reliability decreases. “

Despite cost overruns in building its nuclear power plants and more than $ 10 billion in investments written off on unfinished nuclear power plants, Lyash said nuclear power is TVA’s second cheapest source of electricity in the long run, after only hydropower TVA receives from its 29 Electricity generating dams. Nuclear power plants are typically the most expensive to build, but Lyash said TVA’s nuclear power plants should be in service for 100 years or more with proper maintenance and upgrade.


According to Lyash, TVA wants a balanced portfolio and will continue to add more renewable energy sources like solar and wind. But he said nuclear power is the most reliable base load energy source for delivering electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“We build a thousand megawatts of solar a year, but nuclear technology makes it possible,” said Lyash, a nuclear engineer who has headed TVA for two years after working for several utilities and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The nuclear industry is the safest source of electricity in the world and the US nuclear fleet is the safest fleet in the world.”

US MP Chuck Fleischmann, the Republican from Ooltewah who represents Oak Ridge and is a member of the subcommittee on energy and water resources in the House of Representatives, wants the US as a whole, and TVA in particular, to pursue new nuclear power generation.

“I’m cautiously optimistic because I think nuclear power is now being attracted to both progressives and conservatives,” he said in a recent interview with the Times Free Press. “The appeal of nuclear energy is that it is clean, carbon-free and efficient. I hope that the new energy minister will take the idea of ​​nuclear energy seriously and recognize the advances we have made.”

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said more nuclear power needs to be generated to meet the Biden government’s green energy goals.

“I think there will be some new nuclear power plants going into operation in the next few years, financed by the Department of Energy (at the Vogtle plant in Georgia),” Granholm said in an interview with PBS last week. “I want people to understand that nuclear power is an important base load power (source). It’s 100 percent clean. With the research currently being done on the smaller modular reactors that are more flexible, there are some very exciting technicals going on Progress is being made to make nuclear power more affordable. “

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or at 423-757-6340.

Comments are closed.