Energy Insiders Plan for More Nuclear

RTO Insider has reported on the discussion at the NARUC meeting in mid-February, in which the Tennessee Valley Authority CEO, Jeff Lyash, made the case for his need for nuclear energy to achieve his goals of 80% carbon-free generation by 2035 and net-zero by 2050.

The TVA already has an early has an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build its first SMR at Clinch River. But Lyash is not interested in building one reactor. “In order for us to be successful, TVA needs something on the order of 20 reactors over that period of time,” Lyash remarked to those gathered at the National Associate of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Winter Policy summit in Washington, D.C. 

TVA, a federally-owned utility, will still need a construction permit for the 300 MW GE Hitachi MWRX-300 SMR that it is planning to build but what Lyash really needs is for the construction to reach “nth-of-a-kind costs, supply chain, workforce, project execution” to make constructing a portfolio of 20 or more reactors and slam dunk.

The rising need for nuclear power as a critical technology to enable full decarbonization was a major theme of the NARUC conference. As such, the formation of a new initiative, the Advanced Nuclear State Collaborative, to bring together members of NARUC and the National Association of State Energy Officials was announced by David Wright, an NRC commissioner, and Tricia Pridemore, chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission. The initiative, sponsored by the Department of Energy, will provide technical assistance and expertise for states deploying or considering new nuclear projects, Commissioner Pridemore said.

The new collaborative is the response to growing interest in nuclear by energy insiders. In at least 20 states, “public service commissions and state energy offices are engaged in feasibility studies for advanced nuclear reactor site selection, strategies to reduce regulatory and policy barriers to new nuclear, and other activities to pave the way for advanced reactors,” Commissioner Pridemore said.

With the two new AP1000 reactors at Vogtle just starting to come online, one might think that the troubled Southern Co. experience of building them at more than double the original cost and six years delayed might put a damper on interest in building more nuclear. In fact, Lyash and LPO Director, Jigar Shah, agreed that Vogtle showed that “America is deciding to do big things.”  

As a result of completing these AP1000s, there are now 13,000 trained men and women with experience in building new power plants. They will next be deployed in building the next AP1000s in Poland, which selected the Westinghouse AP1000 in part because the Vogtle plant got done, produced valuable lessons, and there is current knowhow for building it. 

Now, this experience is available to benefit all new buyers, de-risk new builds and improve the financial and public trust in the technology. If more customers step up, whether for the AP1000 or other new designs, the valuable lessons learned can actually benefit the U.S., other nations and our decarbonization efforts and help keep nuclear power competitive in general.

In fact, according to Lyash, nuclear power plants are “highly competitive.”  And he should know because nuclear generates 42% of TVA’s power supply. So while nuclear plants require large up-front capital expenditure, “they have a tremendously long and beneficial life,” per Lyash. “They also deliver all the attributes to a power system that you need—voltage, frequency and maneuverability.” The key need going forward: Buidling them on time and on budget.

Read more at RTO Insider, Making the Case for Nuclear at NARUC, by K. Kaufman, Feb 15, 2023.