Conservation Groups Challenge TVA’s Proposal for Risky New Nuclear Power Technology at Clinch River Site in Tennessee

Guest Blog | June 15, 2017 | Press Releases

Small modular reactor technology expensive, water-intensive and not needed

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



Knoxville, Tenn. – Today a panel of local, regional and national experts discussed concerns about safety and environmental risk posed by Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) proposal to site an untested, new nuclear power technology — small modular reactors (SMRs) — at the abandoned Clinch River Site near Kingston, Tennessee. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has begun 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 (MW) of nuclear power. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and the Tennessee Environmental Council (TEC) petitioned NRC to intervene in the agency’s review process earlier this week. See the filing here.

“The accurate description of what SMRs will actually do for TVA and its customers is squander more resources,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We hope our intervention will prove successful and prevent TVA from making a bad decision that would cost customers and potentially put local communities and the environment at risk.”

The two environmental groups argue that TVA has failed to justify its bid to reduce the size of the emergency planning zone (EPZ) around the proposed reactors from the standard ten miles to the site boundary or at most two miles, thereby exempting state and local governments from emergency planning requirements and reducing the level of preparedness for an accident at the reactors. (See a fly-over video here demonstrating the differing locations.) The groups contend TVA has not demonstrated it has taken into account the safety and environmental risks of spent fuel pool fires, which could have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences.

“TVA expects the public near the Clinch River site to accept on faith that the fantasy nuclear reactors it wants to build there will be so safe that no evacuation plan is needed, even in the event of a core meltdown or a spent fuel pool fire,” said Dr. Edwin Lyman, a Senior Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program. “TVA has apparently failed to learn a major lesson of the Fukushima disaster: Public safety during a nuclear emergency depends critically on being prepared for the unthinkable.”

SACE and TEC also criticize TVA for making inflated claims regarding the superiority of SMRs as an energy technology in comparison to alternative energy choices such as renewables, including wind and solar.

“TVA’s ESP application makes various unsubstantiated claims about SMRs that make the application seem more like an advertisement brochure rather than an examination of the environmental impacts of constructing these reactors,” said Dr. M.V. Ramana, Professor and the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. “There is a long history of experimentation with small nuclear reactors, and the evidence so far suggests that small reactors cost too much for the little electricity they produced. When even large nuclear reactors are failing to be economically competitive, small reactors will fare worse. Attempts to make them cheaper might end up exacerbating nuclear power’s other problems.”

“TVA shielded its application from public criticism of the relative merits of SMR technology by stating that it would not compare SMRs to other energy alternatives at this early site selection stage,” said the groups’ attorney, Diane Curran of Harmon Curran Spielberg & Eisenberg LLP. “SACE and TEC therefore demand that TVA’s claims regarding the relative benefits of SMR technology should be stricken from TVA’s application, and that the NRC should avoid repeating TVA’s claims in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that NRC is preparing for the proposed ESP.”

SACE and TEC 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 or IRP. In more recent discussions, TVA has iterated as well that the power is not needed and they have concerns about pursuing new nuclear generation given the difficult experience with the Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor.

“With rapid growth and cost reductions in renewable generation, TVA’s small modular reactor project looks like a ‘make work’ project for three large federal bureaucracies: the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and TVA’s nuclear engineering division. We won’t need SMR power ten years from now, the soonest it could possibly come on line,” said Don Safer, Board Member, Tennessee Environmental Council.

Now that the comment period for the public to submit environmental scoping comments to the NRC has ended, the agency will review the comments and begin developing the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which according to a tentative schedule has been estimated for issuance in July 2018. In terms of the groups’ legal challenge, they expect to receive responses from TVA and the NRC Staff by July 7 and they will have an opportunity to reply by July 21. They also expect an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will be appointed to determine whether their concerns should be aired in a hearing.