How the next generation of nuclear reactors could be smaller, greener and safer


A new type of nuclear power technology — small modular reactors that promise to produce carbon-neutral energy more safely and efficiently than traditional nuclear power plants — is becoming closer to a reality as a handful of companies push to overcome key regulatory hurdles.

The U.S. government has not yet approved the reactors, which require significantly less space than a typical nuclear plant and produce nuclear energy on a comparatively smaller scale, for construction, but it is signaling a willingness to do so in the future.

In December, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent government agency tasked with ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants, granted the Tennessee Valley Authority the first-ever early site permit for a small modular reactor project. The Tennessee utility currently has no plans to build and operate SMRs, but the permit gives it the option if it chooses to pursue that technology later on.

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