DOE Report Hails SMR Benefits

A new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy, authored by Seth Kirshenberg and Hilary Jackler of the law firm Kutak Rock, addresses the need for clean, reliable power specifically at how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) could meet its needs at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Among the report's recommendations, the authors conclude that “permitting federal agencies to enter into agreements with a term of up to 30 years to purchase power produced by SMR(s) (Small Modular Reactors) would help achieve the TVA's goals.

NuScale SMRThe report also recommends that the federal government “facilitate TVA's Clinch River Site project as a pilot project for SMRs, while simultaneously providing DOE with critical energy resilience and a potential opportunity to conduct research and isotope services.”
The authors recommend extending the 2005 Energy Policy Act Production Tax Credits and “allow applicability to public power entities.” As well, the government was urged to “include nuclear power in the definition of 'clean power,'” and to authorize the DOE's Loan Program to continue to support advanced reactors.

Further endorsing SMR technology, the report concludes that the DOE and the Department of Defense should collaborate to create a list of government facilities that could benefit from having an SMR located near the facility “to achieve added energy resilience.”

While the aim of the report was to find out if SMR technology would increase the government's energy “resilience,” the development of SMR technology is also timely in the age of potentially catastrophic global warming. “The United States power sector will be defined in coming years by a need to increase the use of low-carbon and 'clean' power, while ensuring that power is provided reliably and at low cost,” the report says. “This is particularly relevant to baseload power.”

The authors note that the energy mix is undergoing changes, but note that renewable power sources are “ill-suited sources of baseload power,” and that natural gas power plants “do release … significant amounts,” of harmful carbon.

SMRs offer considerable benefits, including fuel security, designs that allow for power outage to “ramp up and ramp down,” the ability to operate connected to the grid or isolated from it (called islanding), and the ability to start up without any assistance from the electricity grid. They also operate with “minimal use of electrical components,” the report notes, “for example, using natural circulation for cooling instead of forced pumping.”

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