Tennessee Governor Lee supports nuclear power and TVA’s plans for next generation reactors

SPRING CITY, Tenn. – Governor Bill Lee came to America’s newest nuclear reactor on Thursday and pledged his support for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plans to eventually help create even more nuclear power with the next generation of small modular reactors.

After touring the twin-unit Watts Bar nuclear power plant, Lee praised TVA for providing what Lee called “reliable, clean, low-cost power” that helps the state recruit new industries and new jobs in Tennessee.

“Certainly power generation is fundamental to our country’s growth and economy and clean energy generation is important to America’s future and that’s what we have here at this facility in Watts Bar,” Lee told reporters as he stood inside the factory’s training center. for nuclear operators. “TVA is a strong and reliable energy provider, and we enjoy a predictable energy supply despite the weather, and that’s not true for every state in the country.”

TVA, the nation’s largest electric utility and the third-largest nuclear power producer in America, “is very attractive to the private sector and one of the reasons why we are a state that attracts people from around world,” Lee said.

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Governor Lee backs nuclear power, TVA plans

TVA generated 42% of its electricity last year from the seven reactors it operates in Tennessee and Alabama, including the two 1,150 megawatt reactors in the Chattanooga area that power about 1, 3 million households. The federal utility is also the first in the nation to obtain an early site permit from federal regulators to build small modular reactors at the Oak Ridge site of the former Clinch River Breeder reactor, which TVA scrapped there. more than four decades old.

The new smaller reactors, which have yet to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, offer the possibility of being built on a smaller scale and more cost effectively than the current generation of nuclear reactors. TVA is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and nuclear plant manufacturers to test new technology at Oak Ridge and eventually at other sites in the TVA region to help replace coal and natural gas plants to decarbonize its production mix.

Although anti-nuclear groups worry about potential radioactive leaks and waste from nuclear power plants and persistent cost overruns on new nuclear plants, Lee called atomic technology clean and pledged his support for efforts to expand production. of nuclear energy with new generation plants.

“Nuclear energy is so important not only because it is an important part of TVA’s electricity generation, but also because of the value that clean energy via nuclear energy can have for sustainability in this country,” Lee said. “From the state’s perspective, anything we can do to support this predictable, low-cost, clean energy generation will be important to Tennessee, especially from an economic development perspective.”

TVA’s nuclear power plants combined with its 29 hydroelectric dams and 14 solar parks contribute to generating more than 60% of TVA’s electricity from carbon-free sources. TVA has set a goal to generate 80% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035 when it closes the last of the 59 coal-fired units it once operated. But TVA Chairman Jeff Lyash said going carbon-free, as President Joe Biden wants the electric industry to be by 2035, will require more nuclear technology and carbon capture to offset gas generators. which still supply a large part of TVA’s electricity.

Lee’s support for the work at Watts Bar comes as the commercial nuclear power plant prepares to play a bigger role in manufacturing a key part of the US nuclear arsenal at the request of the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Energy. Since 2003, TVA has been manufacturing tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen needed to transform an atomic bomb into a much more explosive hydrogen bomb.

In a conference call Wednesday with federal regulators, TVA officials laid out a timeline to increase the nuclear plant’s tritium output by nearly 40% by 2024 to help the military maintain and potentially increase its supplies of tritium, which breaks down over time and must be replenished if the United States is to maintain its nuclear arsenal. TVA plans to submit an amendment to its Watts Bar license by February 2023 to seek US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for additional tritium production.

If approved, TVA would begin additional tritium production with the refueling of Watts Bar Unit 1 in the fall of 2024 and again with the refueling of Unit 2 in the spring of 2025.

Lyash said tritium production at Watts Bar continues TVA’s role in helping the military, which included powering Oak Ridge to make the atomic bomb during World War II and developing fertilizer. and ammunition in Alabama in the past.

“TVA has always been a vital part of our national defense, beginning with the Manhattan Project and continuing to this day,” Lyash said. “We still have a very close relationship with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, and one of the services we provide is tritium production.”

Lyash said irradiating consumable absorber bars producing tritium supports TVA’s mission as a public service and can be done at Watts Bar cheaper and safer than other means of producing tritium. The DOE reimburses TVA for its expenses related to the irradiation of the bars.

Anti-war and anti-nuclear groups oppose the use of a civilian nuclear power plant for military purposes, which they say illegally crosses the line between civilian and military nuclear operations. Tom Clements, executive director of Savannah River Site Watch, and Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Peace Alliance, this week urged the NRC to reject TVA’s license amendment to produce more tritium at Watts Bar because they say such production of a weapon component nuclear reactor at a civilian nuclear power plant violates international nuclear non-proliferation agreements, although the government has gone to great lengths to use materials that are not required by these agreements.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

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