published Friday, June 3rd, 2011

TVA looking again to complete Bellefonte Nuclear Plant

Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Tom Kilgore, left,  talks before a tour of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Hollywood, Ala., as Ray Hruby listens. The TVA staff plans to ask the TVA board of directors to approve the refurbishing and starting of the plant.
Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Tom Kilgore, left, talks before a tour of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Hollywood, Ala., as Ray Hruby listens. The TVA staff plans to ask the TVA board of directors to approve the refurbishing and starting of the plant.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

HOLLYWOOD, Ala.—Pinched by federal clean air regulations and expected rising customer demand, TVA again is planning to complete its idled Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.

Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Tom Kilgore said Thursday that he will ask the utility’s board of directors in August to OK completing a partially built nuclear reactor at the plant near Scottsboro, Ala.

“Bellefonte is a good asset that needs to be finished,” Kilgore said. “I believe it is the right thing to do. ... We’re going to refurbish every single valve and make this a state-of-the-art plant. We submitted a plan to the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] earlier this year.”

But the utility, which also is closing about half of its coal-fired plants in an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, likely couldn’t have chosen a tougher time for NRC’s or the public’s nuclear scrutiny.

The world has been watching the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, and the local public has been watching TVA’s other nuclear plants have problem after problem recently with unexpected shutdowns caused by both faulty equipment and by disastrous weather.

Bellefonte’s reactor design is a controversial one that has only a one-year track record in Germany before the plant there was mothballed because of problems. Add to that, the age of Bellefonte and its unfinished reactors: Construction began in 1974.

Work was suspended in 1988, with TVA citing declining growth in power demand, as well as construction engineers stretched too thin working on too many TVA reactors all at once. When the plant was mothballed, the Unit 1 reactor was considered 90 percent complete and Unit 2 was half done.

Today Unit 1, which TVA wants now to complete, is thought to be only about 50 percent finished because some parts over the years have been cannibalized for salvage sale and other parts — such as the valves — must be replaced or refurbished.

The utility already has spent about $4.1 billion on the plant. Kilgore said the additional estimated cost for finishing it “is in the $4 billion to $5 billion range.”

Kilgore told reporters touring Bellefonte on Thursday that although some other utilities are backing away from nuclear power, he is comfortable to push ahead without waiting for the final findings on Japan’s disaster.

“If we wait, we won’t hit the demand curve, and not using this plant would be a lost opportunity,” Kilgore said.

He said the U.S. needs to be free from dependence on foreign oil, and one expectation for that is with electric cars.

“Time will tell if people will call us visionaries,” he said. “But if we’re going to talk about energy and electric policy, we’ve got to think bigger than just the customer demands we have now.”

TVA nuclear critic Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, has called TVA’s plan to complete and begin operating the plant that was started in 1974 “the Ford Pinto” of nuclear plants.

“We are disappointed by that decision,” Smith said Thursday. “By the time this reactor goes online, it will be approaching 50 years old, and there’s not a lot of history with this design. Only four were built and only one operated for a very short time. TVA’s not made the case for rushing this. We hope the board will call for more investigation.”

Kilgore and Bellefonte Plant General Manager Ray Hruby disagree with Smith.

Hruby said Bellefonte’s new refit design would withstand an 8.9 earthquake. The largest recorded in the region has been a 4.7. Kilgore said the plant also is designed to take the hit of an EF5 tornado.

“I grew up near here, and I want the plant to be safe, and I believe it will be,” Kilgore said. “I believe it will be the best nuclear plant TVA has.”

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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Leaf said...

It sounds like they might be throwing good money after bad. By TVA's own estimates in the past, 5 billion is the low end and they could spend 9 billion and years to get it operational.

I don't have the numbers at my fingertips, but I wonder if spending that money on solar and wind would be a good idea. It could start producing in weeks instead of years, and being closer to the point of consumption, you wouldn't have those 50% transmission losses that you'd have with the nuclear plant. Plus the safety aspect is hard to ignore.

Is it really economics driving the decision to restart this 50 year-old unfinished reactor of unproven design, or is it ego?

June 3, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.
bignutpro said...

Wind and solar cannot sustain the TVA grid system to make it reliable. The TVA grid can have a load of ~32K megawatts a day during the summer or winter. While this number is unusual, it can and has happened. Where are we going to locate wind or solar farms inside the Valley large enough to carry that load? If we want TVA to abandon Bellefonte then we will have to cut our energy consumption or pay a lot more for an already over priced electric bill. American consumers have proven their reluctance to support either of the aforementioned practices. As a matter of convenience, nuclear it is.

June 3, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
mrredskin said...

50% transmission losses?

June 3, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
Leaf said...

My bad with the 50%. That would be if all the power came to Chattanooga which looks around 80 miles away on my map, when of course a lot of it would be consumed closer to the plant and in Huntsville. Don't know what I was thinking. Still, you have more losses than with distributed generation.

I must take issue with the bignutpro's assertion that our electic bills are overpriced. Sure, it would be nice to have limitless power for free, but until we all have a Mr. Fusion I think electricity is a modern miracle. We have tremendous power at our fingertips, and don't really pay all that much for it. Some people pay more to play Angry Birds.

I bet the former residents near Fukashima wished they had payed a little more for electricity from solar, hydro and wind. Plus, the cost for nuclear is partially subsidized by the taxpayer through government loans and insurance. Still, it's better than coal. I would gladly pay more for my electric bills to have better air quality and less radioactive material loose in the world.

June 3, 2011 at 3:57 p.m.
bignutpro said...

It's not about limitless power for free. It’s more about having consistent, reliable and an affordable base load on the grid. My main point is that consumers already complain about their electric bills with the "affordable" type of base load we currently enjoy. I don't think consumers are ready to stomach much more of increase in their monthly energy bills. You need to really think about how much more wind and solar would cost. I'd be willing to bet you wouldn't like the increase. Furthermore, Fukashima was due to an enormous surge of water that flooded the plant, something we will never see here in the Tennessee Valley. Don't fear nuclear energy, appreciate it.

June 3, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.
SteveK9 said...

Hruby said Bellefonte’s new refit design would withstand an 8.9 earthquake. The largest recorded in the region has been a 4.7.

That is, in other words, a quake 16,000 times more powerful than has been recorded.

June 4, 2011 at 11:44 a.m.
mrredskin said...

it's hard for people to realize that we don't live in a tidal wave area, nor does TVA have any nuclear plants around faults like those in Japan.

June 6, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.
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