In an adroit step backwards, the Tennessee Valley AuthorityNuclear Regulatory Commission Babcock & Wilcox
“TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the utility is using the two-step licensing approach to allow more flexibility for TVA and the manufacturers of the mPower reactor to change the way the plant is designed and built over the next decade,” says this report by Dave Flessner in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Under the single combined operating license, the NRC must pre-approve the design and construction method for any new plant before any building work begins.”
The two-step process also suggests that the TVA may be able to move the application more quickly through the NRC, since the initial construction license will be a simpler affair. The NRC implemented the one-step construction-and-operating licensing process in 1992 after environmental groups bankrupted several utilities by opposing opening of the reactor after the utility had invested billions of dollars in building it. The COL allows the utility to obtain an operating license before breaking ground – although the process has never been tested and opposition groups are bound to drag it through the courts anyway.
Anti-nuclear advocates are already lining up to criticize the small modular reactors, which many believe represents the future of the nuclear industry. "We are highly skeptical that these modular designs are going to deliver as promised," Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told the Times Free Press. "There is a whole set of issues that are likely to be raised about these plants so TVA, the NRC and the contractors should expect a real fight." Who would have guessed?
Nonetheless, the TVA effort holds the promise that SMRs may soon move off the drawing boards. TVA plans to build two of B&W’s 125-megawatt, factory-built reactors on the site of the old Clinch River Breeder Reactor, another promising technology that was halted by the Carter Administration.
Industry and utility officials are hopeful that the piecemeal strategy of SMRs will prove easier to manage than full-scale, on-site-constructed 1,500-MW reactors. "Any time you can do a lot of work in a factory environment, you have a lot more control on schedule and costs," said Rick Bonsall, vice president of B&W.