TVA cautioned on pursuit of expensive, risky nuclear reactor technology

Guest Blog | January 12, 2017 | Press Releases

Experimental, unproven small modular reactors will squander taxpayer and utility customer investments and fail to offer clean economic development opportunities

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


Knoxville, Tenn. (January 12, 2017) – Today the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepted the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) application for an early site permit to evaluate whether the Clinch River, Tennessee site is suitable for development of experimental small modular reactors (SMRs). The NRC, the federal regulatory agency that oversees the licensing and operation of nuclear power plants, will now begin the review process that will take several years. If the early site permit is ever approved, TVA would still need to obtain a combined operating license in order to construct and operate SMRs.

Small modular reactors, of which there are no NRC-approved designs, would produce less than 300 megawatts (MW) of electrical output. They are modular in construction and design: proposals are for the modular reactors to be built at an off-site facility and multiple modular reactors could be added to a site over time. TVA’s application mentions building possibly two or more SMRs up to 800 MW at TVA’s abandoned Clinch River breeder reactor site near the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The DOE entered into an agreement with TVA in 2015 to support site permitting efforts. Specific designs are not referenced, in part because the NRC has not approved any designs.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s high risk energy choices program director, Sara Barczak, issued this statement in response to today’s announcement:

“Once again the Department of Energy is repeating past mistakes by pushing a highly speculative nuclear power technology that doesn’t exist in the real world. This is the same site where breeder reactors were once proposed and ultimately failed, after squandering lots of money. Given there are no certified reactor designs, nor has a thorough review by the NRC of any designs here in the U.S. even been conducted, small modular reactors should be more accurately described as ‘mystery’ modular reactors as there is no rational or economic reason to pursue them.

There is nothing ‘small’ about the estimated price tag of SMRs; they will only squander more resources. Cost estimates are no improvement over that of larger reactors under construction here in the U.S., at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia and SCANA’s V.C. Summer in South Carolina, which are already economically unfeasible and billions of dollars over budget as construction problems and subsequent delays continue.

Let us not forget that the non-partisan taxpayer watchdog organization, Taxpayers for Common Sense, gave the infamous “Golden Fleece Award” to the Department of Energy in 2013 for wasteful federal spending on small modular reactors. The DOE is driving this unneeded experiment and TVA customers along with taxpayers cannot afford investing in another failed project, such as TVA experienced just last year with their abandoned Bellefonte nuclear plant project in Alabama—a nearly $5 billion investment that ultimately sold for just over $110 million.

TVA is putting the cart before the horse and wasting very limited dollars on what we foresee to be yet another economic boondoggle – this is not a reliable, cost-effective way to provide electricity. Given we are already seeing taxpayers’ money being unwisely spent on this wildly speculative project, the time is now for the DOE and TVA to focus on affordable, reliable, clean energy solutions that are actually available today, can provide good jobs and rural economic development opportunities.”


Find more information on SMRs here. Find today’s notice in the Federal Register here and the NRC’s webpage on the Clinch River proposal 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