What is a Small Modular Reactor?Part 2

October 10, 2022                                                                                                                                                      Home

The previous article discussed the Small Modular Reactor (SMR).  TVA plans to develop a number of these reactors in its efforts to reduce its use of polluting energy sources like coal and natural gas. 

The following questions were raised:

        • When will the first SMR be operational?
        • What will be done with the radioactive waste?
        • Does the fact that the reactor is smaller mean there is less radioactive waste?
        • How much will an SMR cost to produce and become operational?
        • Who pays for these costs?  
        • Does anyone remember the Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant in Hawkins County?


As stated by TVA, this is an emerging technology and sounds good.  Is there an SMR operating in the US today?  No, there are none. The first license for an SMR design was granted in July of this year for a project based at the Idaho National Laboratory.  And, when will this begin operation?  Not until at least 2030.  

From ARS Technica magazine, “Given that costs of wind, solar, and storage prices continue to drop, most utilities are already done with the learning period needed to use renewables effectively. That period will only start for SMRs in 2030. It’s entirely possible that this nuclear technology wlll begin operation at roughly the same time we’re becoming confident that we won’t need much of it.”


      Unlike power plants that run on coal or natural gas, nuclear plants emit little carbon dioxide, a major cause of global warming.  This is good.

        “But nuclear energy is not risk free. In the U.S., commercial nuclear power plants have produced more than 88,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, as well as substantial volumes of intermediate and low-level radioactive waste. The most highly radioactive waste will have to be isolated in deep-mined caves for hundreds of thousands of years. At present, the U.S. has no program to develop a repository, after spending decades and billions of dollars on the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. As a result, spent nuclear fuel is currently stored in pools or in dry casks at reactor sites, accumulating at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons per year.”  (https://news.stanford.edu/2022/05/30/small-modular-reactors-produce-high-levels-nuclear-waste/)

So, will small reactors produce less waste? A study published May 31 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that SMRs will generate more nuclear waste.

“Most small modular reactor designs will actually increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal, by factors of 2 to 30 for the reactors in our case study, These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”



 TVA does not receive federal funding.  All of TVA’s revenue comes from the power that it sells to power distributors (cooperatives and municipal power companies) and industry.  Members of cooperatives and customers of power companies pay their electric bills. These payments are from us and other users.  

TVA illustration of Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant

The cost of the SMRs is uncertain, as one has not yet been built. Remember that the first license for design was only granted in July, with production to begin in 2030.   Cost overruns are common for TVA. Many of us remember that TVA invested $1,500,000,000 in the Phipps Bend nuclear plant in Hawkins County before cancelling the project in 1982.  The funds to pay for that came from all our electrical bills.


 Why did they stop construction at Phipps Bend?  Cost overruns and the decision that this source of power was no longer needed.

Lots of questions about SMRs and few answers.

Everyone needs to learn more about our electric cooperative.  For more information, go to  pve.coop.  

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