Disused coal plants could be converted for SMRs

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American coal-fired power plants that have recently closed could be used as sites for small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), according to the head of a Tennessee energy, environment and economic development company.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) president and chief executive Jeff Lyash told a virtual Atlantic Council event last week that shut coal power plants have potential for SMR development because of their available water resources and existing power grid connections.

“I see those sites as very viable SMR sites,” he said.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, added that some of the “better manufacturing sites are the coal-fired power plants”.

A combination of competition from cheap natural gas and falling costs for renewable power has led to the closure of hundreds of coal plants, with more than 250 shutting in America since 2010. Montana’s state senate approved a study on building SMRs at old coal plants earlier this year.

TVA has used coal-fired plants since the 1950s but, in line with its clean energy commitments, it has started phasing out older, less efficient units. It has three traditional nuclear reactors.

Going forward, SMRs may be needed as a carbon-free energy source to supplement intermittent sources like wind and solar.

The first U.S small-scale project NuScale Power proposes developing 12 60Mw modules at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. However the estimated cost has risen to $6.1bn (£4.3bn) from $3.6bn (£2.5bn) in 2017.

Meanwhile in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed the development of large and small scale nuclear energy projects in his 10 Point Plan for a “green industrial revolution” in November.

Johnson has committed £525M “to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors”.

He claims that “advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors […] could support 10,000 jobs”.

However Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit head of analysis Jonathan Marshall said the announcement is disappointing, since it had previously been suggested that the development of mini nuclear power stations could be boosted by a £2bn government investment. The aid plan was anticipated to facilitate the design and construction of 16 sites by 2050, with work undertaken by a Rolls Royce-led consortium.

Despite this expectation, the industry will only benefit from the £525M investment which covers both large and small nuclear projects.

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