The Tennessee Valley Authority is in the early phases of applying to build a new, smaller nuclear reactor in Oak Ridge. It's a design that's never been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States.

TVA wants to build the small modular reactor (SMR) in an area on the Clinch River near the southwest edge of Oak Ridge. This is the same site where TVA proposed to build the breeder reactor in the 1980s that was scrapped due to budget cuts and safety concerns.

They plan to apply for the early site permit to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. TVA has already done many of the preliminary studies because of the preparation for the breeder reactor.

It could be years before the design and the site are approved, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is already planning public meetings to explain the process to people.

TVA provides electricity to nine million people in seven states. Looking forward, TVA spokesperson Jim Hopson said the small modular reactor would have many benefits in comparison to the Watts Bar 1150 megawatt nuclear reactor. The SMR runs about 80-200 megawatts.

Hopson said they also have a modern design with advanced safety features and have adjustable settings, unlike larger reactors, that are better in conjunction with solar and wind power. It also produces zero emissions.

While TVA waits for the design approval, Hopson said they are already applying for a permit to see if there are any problems they can fix them to be ready if and when the design is approved.

"This is the first step in a very long process to get this online. But it's an important step," Hopson said.

On April 12 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., you can learn more from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. TVA will also be on hand to answer any questions. The information session is at the Pollard Center on the campus of Oak Ridge Associated Universities.