KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The largest public power company in the United States is launching a program to develop and fund new small modular nuclear reactors it says will play a part in its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The board for the Tennessee Valley Authority on Thursday authorized the program, with up to $200 million to be spent for the first phase.
Jim Hopson, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Valley Authority said this phase would be focused on researching the feasibility of the SMRs at the TVA's Clinch River Site in Roane County near Oak Ridge.
"Hopefully to get to a point of making a decision at some point in the future about deploying new nuclear technology," Hopson said.
The Clinch River location is the only place in the United States with a site permit for an SMR. The SMRs generate about a fourth of the power as conventional reactors currently in use by TVA.
"They have advanced technology and design characteristics that make them far more efficient, far more flexible," Hopson said.
TVA said the project hopes to advance the company's overall goal of achieving 'net-zero' carbon emissions by 2050.
"Nuclear power right now is the only source of carbon-free energy generation that is available 24/7," Hopson said.
However, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's Executive Director Steve Smith said nuclear power is not necessarily renewable, because of how the nuclear material is mined and organizations dispose of it.
Smith said he would rather see TVA invest in cleaner sources of energy, like solar and wind power. He also said TVA should not be the organization that brings the first SMR to the U.S.
"TVA has never brought a nuclear reactor project in on budget nor on schedule," Smith said.
"One of the reasons why we're doing this program is to gather that information," Hopson said.
On Friday, TVA said it released a draft of the environmental impact statement for the project and asked for public feedback. It is hosting a virtual open house on Thursday, March 10 from 6 to 8 p.m., and you can find more information at this link on how to submit a comment.
Comments will need to be received or postmarked by April 4, 2022.
A recent Associated Press survey of the energy policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that a strong majority say nuclear will help take the place of fossil fuels.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.