The United States, like many industrialized countries, has pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions, and, like others, the U.S. has been boosting renewables, exploring the use of hydrogen for power generation, switching to natural gas and modernizing its grid. Now the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to add to the mix a powerful new source: small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs, which can be deployed faster than conventional ones and at a lower cost per unit of output.
Last week, TVA ratified a new initiative to explore advanced nuclear technology to help it reach its decarbonization goals. Its New Nuclear Program aims to provide up to $200 million to “examine advanced reactor technology options for potential, future deployment” at its Clinch River site in Tennessee and “other potential site locations in anticipation of future TVA system needs.”
Specifically, TVA is looking at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s SMR design, the BWRX-300. “While we will continue to support and examine all of the various SMR designs being proposed, we believe that light-water SMR designs, which are closely related to the current generation of TVA’s large nuclear units, are more mature and closer to commercial deployment within the next decade,” said Jeff Lyash, TVA president and chief executive officer. “For that reason, we are currently in discussions with GE Hitachi to support their BWRX-300 light-water [SMR] design, which will help inform a future decision about potential deployment.”
In December, Ontario Power Generation selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 technology for the first grid-scale SMR in Canada, with the goal of bringing it online by the end of the decade. Now the technology is drawing interest from Europe. GE Hitachi, BWXT Canada and Poland’s Synthos Green Energy (SGE) announced their intention to cooperate in deploying at least 10 of GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMRs in Poland by the early 2030s.
An SMR is defined as a reactor that produces up to 300 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. The BWRX-300 SMR design is based on proven BWR technologies that power many existing nuclear power plants. It also includes innovative features that would allow it to be deployed more quickly than conventional large reactors. “The pieces themselves already exist; they are basically building blocks that have been pre-designed,” says Christer Dahlgren, the principal designer of the BWRX-300. “You are not building them in the field. They are coming to the site already built and pre-tested.”
Above: Artist's rendering of a BWRX-300. Image credit: GE Hitachi.