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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
August 01, 2023 | Tom Ballard

More than 450 people register for the “Nuclear Opportunities Workshop”

The event drew a standing room only crowd to the Hilton Knoxville Airport, doubling previous attendance records.

How important is the nuclear industry as an economic driver in this region?

The answer is very important judging by the number of people – 450, including about a fourth from outside the area – who registered for the fifth annual “Nuclear Opportunities Workshop” (NOW) organized by the East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC). The two-day event kicked off on August 1 at the Hilton Knoxville Airport with two keynote addresses and two panel discussions.

This year’s registration was more than twice last year’s and close to four times the attendance in the first three years (2017 – 2019) before COVID-19 interrupted the event until its return in 2022.

Another measure of the nuclear industry’s importance to the region was underscored by ETEC President Tracy Boatner in her opening comments and by a pre-recorded video from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

Boatner noted there are 229 companies in the nuclear sector in the Volunteer State, and 154 of them are in the Oak Ridge region. In his remarks, Lee touted the new $50 million funding to grow the nuclear industry and a blue ribbon group that he has created (see articles here and here). “No other state matches Tennessee’s ability to be a national leader in nuclear energy,” he said.

Michael Goff

The kudos for the region continued with the first keynote address by Michael Goff, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. As he commended ETEC for organizing the NOW event and attendees for turning out as they did, he noted that “the last four administrations have viewed nuclear as critically important. It’s bipartisan and bicameral.”

Goff talked about what he called the “significant impact” that the region has on the industry – from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex to new initiatives like Kairos’ Hermes reactor and the small modular reactor (SMR) that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is exploring at the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor site. Goff also reviewed the Department’s four priorities in the nuclear space:

  • Keep existing U.S. nuclear reactors operating;
  • Deploy new nuclear reactors that involve more options than ever before;
  • Secure the nuclear fuel cycle; and
  • Expand international cooperation.
Jeff Lyash

The other keynote speaker on Day 1 of NOW was Jeff Lyash, TVA’s President and Chief Executive Officer, who might have been expected to spend his time talking about SMR and plans for the Clinch River site. Instead, he focused on what he called “the challenge versus the opportunity before us” against the backdrop of the Clinch River plans.

Explaining that TVA’s power peaks this summer are 1,000 megawatts above a year ago, Lyash set the challenge in graphic terms. “We will need to double the terawatts we are going to have to deliver to our customers in the next 20 years. It took us 90 years to get to the current level.”

He added that the energy must be affordable, reliable, resilient, and clean (decarbonized).

Lyash posed some key questions: “What are the levers we can pull? What are the technologies we can leverage? What does it take to build – possibly rebuild – an industry, (develop) policies, workforce and a supply chain to serve the U.S. and the world?”

His answer: “It’s not a lack of capability; it’s a lack of commitment. TVA is trying to demonstrate that you can do just that.”

Lyash’s major concerns: the supply chain, the workforce, and financing. “We need federal support. It needs to be recognized as a national priority. Our Clinch River project is important to TVA, but it is also how you stand up an industry.”

The conference, which also featured panels on advanced nuclear reactor development and fusion energy, continues all day on August 2.


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