The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ONRL) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to "evaluate a new generation of flexible, cost-effective advanced nuclear reactors".  

ORNL and TVA will work together on ways to improve the economic feasibility of potentially licensing, constructing, operating and maintaining one or more advanced nuclear reactors, such as a small modular reactor (SMR), at TVA’s 935-acre Clinch River site in East Tennessee.

TVA has not made any decision to build a reactor. Construction would also require a design licence from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The agreement between ORNL and TVA builds on years of collaboration, a statement said.

In 2016 modelling tools developed at ORNL were used to predict the first six months of operations of unit 2 at TVA’s Watts Bar nuclear plant.

“We are combining our world-leading research capabilities and TVA’s operating expertise to accelerate the next generation of cost-effective nuclear power,” said ORNL director Thomas Zacharia.

“Nuclear has long been a key component of the US energy portfolio, and growing demand for emission-free electricity requires that we innovate to ensure safe, affordable and efficient nuclear power for generations to come,” he added.

TVA President & CEO Jeff Lyash said the partnership “supports TVA’s mission for innovation" and will allow the utility to better explore potential future nuclear technologies.  

The partners will evaluate a range of areas from development of advanced construction techniques, to the evaluation of integrated development activities for site support and innovation of advanced manufacturing technologies.

The work will benefit from ORNL’s scientific expertise and facilities including its High Flux Isotope Reactor, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

Photo: Aerial view of the Clinch River site where TVA hopes to build small reactors (Credit: TVA)