Oak Ridger: Six small nuclear reactors could be built at Clinch River Breeder Reactor site in Oak Ridge

Alexander touts mini nuke reactors

Posted on July 19, 2011

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said the nation should proceed with building small modular nuclear reactors. Six of the small reactors have been proposed for the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor site in west Oak Ridge.

"There are at least six other countries that are moving ahead with small modular reactor programs: Russia, China, France, South Korea, Argentina, Japan," Alexander said during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Energy and Water Subcommittee.

"If we don't move ahead, arguably, the world would be deprived of our safety regime and our technology, and we'll be deprived of an industry that will make it easier and cheaper for us to create private-sector jobs through low-cost, clean electricity."

Alexander said U.S. electricity use is set to rise 31 percent by 2035, and nuclear power now provides 70 percent of the nation's clean electricity.

"We need to move ahead with research and development as quickly as possible," the senator said. Several questions should be answered, though: Are the reactors designed to be safe? Can exporting the technology make the world safer? And, are the small reactors "a useful way to promote clean electricity in a country that uses nearly 25 percent of all electricity in the world?"

He argued that the United States has the best regime for making safe nuclear reactors and also has the best record, with no deaths from the nuclear incident.

"No other form of energy has this record," Alexander said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority signed a letter of intent this spring to become the nation's first electricity provider to build small modular reactors, possibly at the 1,300-acre Clinch River site, where a now-scrapped reactor was to be built in the 1980s, The Associated Press reported.

At that time, TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the utility is pursuing possible development of a single small reactor to start operating by 2020, the AP said. Johnson said they would be built in pairs, and the small reactors each could supply enough power to support about 70,000 homes, about one-tenth of a large reactor.

One of the small 125-megawatt reactors would provide enough electricity to power the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

But the cost and who will pay for it are not known.