- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Just a week after voting to scrap an unfinished 1970s-era nuclear power plant in Alabama, the Tennessee Valley Authority began taking steps toward possible future construction of small modular reactors.

Several designs for the new generation reactors are in the pipeline to be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said in a Monday phone interview. TVA is asking the commission to approve a site plan that could accommodate any one of those designs at its 1,200-acre Clinch River site near Oak Ridge.

TVA is the first utility in the country to submit any type of application to the NRC related to small modular reactors, Hopson said.

The small reactors produce around 80-200 megawatts of power, he said. In comparison, the traditional reactor at TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 2 will produce around 1150 megawatts.

Unlike large reactors, the small reactors can be operated at different power levels and are designed to be used in combination. They are cheaper to build than large reactors and can be brought online in phases, so the utility could start recouping its investment as soon as the first one was online instead of waiting until an entire plant was finished, Hopson said.

TVA is exploring siting up to 800 megawatts at Clinch river, he said. Any construction decision is still several years away.

In recent years, TVA has moved away from coal-operated power plants and diversified its power-generation portfolio to include more natural gas and solar. But Hopson said there is still a place for nuclear.

“Right now the only type of non-carbon-emitting generation that is available 24/7 is nuclear, so it seems to have a role,” he said.

TVA is the nation’s largest public utility, serving more than 9 million people in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

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