The Tennessee Valley Authority is joining forces with Canadian and Polish companies to fund the development of a new small modular reactor design it hopes will generate new carbon-free electricity at a fraction of the cost of legacy nuclear power plants.
TVA signed a new technical collaboration agreement on Thursday providing that the utility, alongside Ontario Power Generation and Polish Synthos Green Energy, will collectively invest around $400 million to fund the development of GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 reactor. The goal is for the reactor to be deployed at the signatories’ new nuclear plants over the next decade.
The agreement will guide efforts to engineer and develop a standard design for the 300-megawatt reactor and its components, including its reactor pressure vessel.
Legacy nuclear plants are generally one-and-done designs drawn up for specific sites. This factor, along with their larger-sized reactors and requirement for more construction materials, has led to immense cost overruns in many cases, giving the sector a bad reputation.
Ken Hartwick, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, said Thursday the intent with the new agreement is to “design [the reactor] once and build it multiple times … not like our sins of the past.”
The BWRX-300 reactor differs from some other prominent next-generation nuclear designs in using legacy boiling water reactor technology while using it on a smaller scale.
Some next-gen reactor designers, such as Bill Gates’s startup TerraPower, are developing novel design and cooling methods.
Ontario Power intends to utilize the GE Hitachi reactor at its Darlington New Nuclear Project in Clarington, Ontario, where developers broke ground in December.
“We have the technology, we’ve got a project, we’ve got a plan to deliver a new clean electricity to our grid before the end of this decade,” Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of energy, said during the Thursday ceremony in Washington, D.C.
TVA plans to first install the reactor at the site of a plant it’s designing to be built on the Clinch River in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the only site in the country with a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved early site permit for an SMR.
The site could ultimately take up to four reactors, and the plan is for its first unit to be online in the early 2030s.
The agreement to develop a common design means a person could one day visit reactor sites operated by each company and more or less see the same product in action, said Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of TVA.
Lyash added that large nuclear reactors still have a place in the power sector but contended SMRs offer more flexibility and more easily allow a utility to use it in different applications beyond grid-scale electricity generation.
Other uses floated for new nuclear designs include hydrogen production and power generation at industrial sites.
The Biden administration, along with many lawmakers in both parties, supports the development of new nuclear technologies as a solution to the challenges of meeting increasing energy demand and mitigating climate change.
Nuclear reactions do not generate carbon dioxide emissions like other thermal generation sources, such as coal and natural gas.