Guest Post: Nuclear expansion fueling TVA’s overall carbon reduction

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Energy Fairness is pleased to present the following op-ed from Tennessee Valley Authority’s Chief Nuclear Officer Tim Rausch. 

It’s no coincidence that the Tennessee Valley Authority has become a national leader in both adding nuclear energy generation and cutting our carbon emissions. While many have talked about the value of nuclear power in de-carbonizing electricity, TVA has already moved the needle with new nuclear investments.

Since TVA made a strategic decision to diversify our generation portfolio in the early 2000s, we’ve successfully added more than 1,600 megawatts of new nuclear capacity. Nuclear energy now provides more than one-third of TVA’s generation.

During the same timespan, we’ve cut annual carbon emissions more than 53 million tons, down more than 50 percent across our fleet. Right now, more than 60 percent of the energy TVA produces is carbon-free, and we are working toward a 70-percent reduction by FY2030.

A major key to our success story has been two significant nuclear expansion projects. In 2016, TVA brought online Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2 in Spring City, Tenn., the first new commercial nuclear reactor in 20 years in the U.S. This investment added more than 1,150 megawatts of long-term, low-cost, carbon-free generation to our system, capable of powering approximately 650,000 homes. Watts Bar Unit 2 was recognized as POWER Magazine’s 2018 Project of the Year.

This year, TVA completed the 465-megawatt extended power uprate at our Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Decatur, Ala. This $475 million investment increased carbon-free generation from each of Browns Ferry’s three units, powering an additional 280,000 homes from the existing site footprint. It is a finalist for the 2019 Global Energy Award Construction Project of the Year, awarded by S&P Global Platts. To date, only 29 of 106 nuclear units in the United States have implemented EPU projects like that at Browns Ferry.

Together, these two expansion projects further cement TVA among the top owners and operators of nuclear power in the United States, with seven nuclear power units at three sites that provide 8,344 megawatts (summer net capacity). The three units at Browns Ferry alone can produce 3,933 megawatts, making it TVA’s largest generation site and one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country.

And TVA is continuing to look to nuclear generation in the future. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing an early site permit application for TVA’s Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tenn., a possible future location for small modular reactors. While TVA has made no decision on pursuing small modular reactors, the permit will enable us to continue exploring the potential of SMRs as a carbon-free energy alternative with a smaller footprint and greater flexibility than larger units.

TVA is also preparing for the renewal of the Browns Ferry site license in the 2030s. Renewing that license would enable the plant to continue supplying low-cost, carbon-free energy for the public well into the 2060s.

No matter where you stand on climate change, all of us can agree that we want a cleaner planet. While there is no one way to reduce carbon, TVA is showing the impact that nuclear energy has on providing the safe, low-cost, reliable and clean power necessary for a thriving economy — while also significantly cutting our carbon footprint. And with an eye toward additional innovations, nuclear will continue to be a key source to keep TVA’s energy clean for years to come.

We are proud of our leadership roles, both in the U.S. nuclear industry, and in helping de-carbonize our economies, industries and communities. We look forward to many more decades of powering the Tennessee Valley with carbon-free nuclear energy.