TVA signs nuclear research MOU with University of Tennessee on advanced SMR technologies

In its latest move toward potentially embracing next-gen nuclear energy technology, the Tennessee Valley Authority has signed a memorandum of understanding with the state’s largest university to study it together.

The University of Tennessee and TVA signed the MOU to evaluate development of advanced nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors. The project, if developed, would be at TVA’s 935-acre Clinch River Nuclear Site in Roane County.

TVA has not made a decision to build it and would still require U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a specific design. Late last year, however, the NRC approved the federal utility’s early site permit at Clinch River.

Earlier this year, TVA announced it had signed an MOU with the Oak Ridge National Lab, part of the Energy Department system.

“UT offers unique capabilities supporting TVA’s mission for innovation in nuclear power,” TVA CEO Jeff Lyash said. “This partnership allows us to better explore new nuclear technologies through UT’s advanced modeling and simulation tools as we continue to pursue a clean energy future.”

Nuclear-fueled power plants generate nearly 20 percent of the U.S. electricity capacity. The reactor units emit no carbon dioxide.

The academic-utility partnership would focus on the economic feasibility of potentially operating light-water of non-light water fission reactors. The TVA statement also noted that it both leverages the expertise of UT’s nuclear engineering department and provides engagement with students in helping develop the nuclear workforce of the future.

“Established in 1957, our department is the oldest and one of the most prestigious in the country,” said UT Engineering Department Head Wes Hines. “This strategic partnership with TVA to build highly efficient advanced reactors will help us pave the way for a clean, reliable energy future.”

TVA calls its agreements with UT and the Oak Ridge National Lab, as well as the early site permit from the NRC, important early steps in consideration of new nuclear technology.

This announcement joins previously announced partnerships and design advancements involving companies such as NuScale Power, Lightbridge, Framatome and South Korea’s SMART SMR. These SMRs offer the potential for development, construction and commissioning with lower land footprints, fuel needs, safety concerns and, nearly as importantly, costs.

The research performed at Oak Ridge through DOE’s national programs has enabled multiple utilities to innovate and improve power generation through the development and use of new materials, processes and state-of-the-art technologies.

TVA is a corporate agency of the U.S. which derives all of its revenues from sales of electricity. It provides power to business customers and local power companies which serve nearly 10 million people in seven southeastern states.

Knoxville is the flagship campus for the UT system. The university has more than 29,000 students from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 other nations.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and

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Nuclear technologies, from conventional to SMRs, will be part of the content in the Lowering Carbon with Thermal Power in POWERGEN International’s conference workshops. POWERGEN 2020 will be happening December 8-10 in Orlando, Florida.

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