What is a Small Modular Reactor?

September 26, 2022                                                                                                                                      Home

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides electric power to Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) and more than 150 other power distributors in a six state region of the southeast.  Across the nation, TVA and other electricity providers are changing their power mix, as coal plants go out of commission and there is an increasing need for “clean energy”.  

As part of this effort, “TVA continues to evaluate emerging nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, as part of technology innovation efforts aimed at developing the energy system of the future. TVA’s goal is to identify an economically viable advanced nuclear technology to generate carbon-free electricity in the 2030s and beyond.  An advanced nuclear reactor is a nuclear fission reactor with significant improvements over (current) reactors. Many are small modular reactors, with electric generating capacity of 300 megawatts or less, in contrast to an average of about 1,000 megawatts for existing commercial reactors.”  (from tva.com)

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, Soddy-Daisy, TN

The U.S. has 93 operating nuclear reactors, producing 20% of the nation’s electricity. Worldwide there are about 440 nuclear power reactors, producing 10% of the world’s electricity in 2021. TVA operates three nuclear plants generating about 8,275 megawatts of electricity (close to 40% of its fuel mix): Browns Ferry, near Athens, Alabama, Sequoyah, in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, and Watts Bar, near Spring City, Tennessee.                                                    


Small – physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor

Modular – making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation

Reactor – harnessing nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy

There are many who are opposed to nuclear power because of the potential for an “accidental” meltdown, as happened in Chernobyl (and a close call at Three Mile Island) or an earthquake, as happened in Fukushima.  There are many who see it as a safe and effective source of “clean energy”.  This article (and the article in the next issue) does not address these concerns.

TVA illustration of Phipps Bend Nuclear Plant

The following questions will be discussed in the next issue:                        

  • 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?

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

Previous              Back to Bill’s article list             Next