Nuclear Licensing Board Rules in Favor of Conservation Groups’ Initial Challenge of TVA’s Proposal for Risky New Nuclear Power Technology at Clinch River Site in Tennessee

Guest Blog | October 11, 2017 | Press Releases

Experimental small modular reactor technology is expensive, water-intensive and not needed

Contact: Jennifer Rennicks, SACE, 865-235-1448, [email protected]


Knoxville, Tenn. – Yesterday a federal nuclear licensing board ruled in favor of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Tennessee Environmental Council in their initial challenge of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) proposal to site an untested, experimental new nuclear power technology — small modular reactors (SMRs) — at the abandoned Clinch River Site near Kingston, Tennessee. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is reviewing TVA’s application for an early site permit (ESP) to determine whether the site is suitable for two or more SMR units generating up to 800 megawatts of nuclear power. In June, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and the Tennessee Environmental Council (TEC) demanded a hearing on the adequacy of TVA’s application to satisfy federal safety and environmental laws. After hearing oral argument in September, the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) granted SACE and TEC’s hearing request.

The ASLB’s decision yesterday grants SACE and TEC an evidentiary hearing on two important environmental issues. The groups argued that TVA has not demonstrated that it has taken into account the safety and environmental risks of catastrophic fires in spent fuel storage pools, which could have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences. Additionally, SACE and TEC criticized TVA for making inflated and impermissible claims regarding the supposed superiority of SMRs as an energy technology in comparison to affordable, less-risky alternative energy choices available today such as renewables, including wind and solar.

“We are pleased that important issues regarding spent fuel pool fire risks and the need for an unbiased study of environmental impacts have been admitted for a hearing,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “In the end, we hope our intervention will prevent TVA from making another bad decision that would financially burden customers and potentially put local communities and the environment at risk.”

The groups have repeatedly highlighted that TVA does not need SMRs as identified by TVA itself in the utility’s most recent long term energy plan known as the Integrated Resource Plan. Even more recently, TVA has iterated as well that the power is not needed.

“TVA’s small modular reactor project is experimental and unnecessary,” said Don Safer, Board Member, Tennessee Environmental Council. “We now have affordable, safe, proven technologies such as wind, solar and energy efficiency and conservation that can deliver, unlike new nuclear power which has been a failure.”

The licensing board did reject SACE and TEC’s contention that TVA failed to consider the potential for spent fuel pool fires in its request for an exemption from the NRC’s requirement that nuclear power plants must have a 10-mile emergency planning zone (EPZ). If granted, this dangerous exemption could allow TVA to reduce the scope of—or even eliminate—its responsibility to conduct off-site evacuation planning in the event of an accident or terrorist attack at the reactors. (See a fly-over video here demonstrating the differing emergency planning zone locations.)

“SACE and TEC plan to seek reconsideration of the Board’s ruling that refused to grant a hearing on TVA’s bid to significantly weaken emergency planning standards for the proposed site,” said the groups’ attorney, Diane Curran of Harmon Curran Spielberg & Eisenberg LLP. “The Board misunderstood our contention, and we are going to ask them to review it again.”

The NRC is developing the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which according to a tentative schedule has been estimated for issuance in July 2018. The evidentiary hearing will be held after the EIS is issued. In the meantime, SACE and TEC plan to file their motion for reconsideration of the ASLB’s erroneous decision on their emergency planning contention in the coming week.

Find the SACE-TEC June 2017 petition to intervene here and the ALSB’s decision yesterday here. To learn more about the organizations’ concerns, find a telepress conference held June 15, 2017 with their expert witnesses here.


Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that work to address the impacts of Global Climate Change and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at

The Tennessee Environmental Council has been educating and advocating for the conservation and improvement of Tennessee’s environment, communities, and public health since 1970. Learn more at