Alabama’s biggest unfinished construction project may be revived nearly a half century after it was begun.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which already is pursuing licenses for two new reactors at its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in Hollywood, Ala., soon will begin a study of whether it also should finish the original two reactors it previously canceled at the same site.
TVA President Tom Kilgore said Wednesday the agency will spend $10 million to study whether to try to finish the original two Babcock & Wilcox-designed reactors at Bellefonte.
“Given the rising price of coal and other fuels — and looking at the rising costs of steel and concrete — we are taking another look at these units,” he said.
After starting construction in 1974, the federal utility quit building the reactors in 1988 when the cost became too great and TVA’s power growth slowed. TVA estimated that Unit 1 was 88 percent complete and Unit 2 was 58 percent complete at the time.
TVA invested more than $4 billion in the two units before suspending construction in 1988 and ultimately canceling the construction permit for the reactors in early 2006.
BELLEFONTE AT A GLANCE
* Location: Bellefonte is located on the Tennessee River in Hollywood, Ala.
* History: TVA obtained a construction permit in 1974 to build two reactors, but halted construction in 1988 when power demand slowed and costs rose. In 2005, Bellefonte was chosen as the preferred site for a nuclear consortium to build two next-generation reactors.
* Original units: Two Babcock & Wilcox-designed pressurized water reactors were more than half finished but scrapped in 2006
* New units: NuStart Energy LLC, a partnership that includes TVA, is pursuing a license for two Westinghouse AP-100 reactors, scheduled to be finished in 2017 and 2019.
* Investment: TVA spent more than $4 billion on the first reactors before canceling construction. TVA has not yet calculated the cost of finishing any of the units.
TVA applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in November 2006 for one of the first new combined operating licenses to build two next-generation reactors at Bellefonte. A consortium of nuclear utilities and engineering firms — called NuStart Energy LLC — picked Bellefonte as its preferred site to test the licensing for two new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors.
If TVA were to finish the two original reactors and build the two new nuclear units, the agency could spend up to $20 billion at Bellefonte over the next two decades, according to some preliminary cost estimates for similar plants. But that many reactors could power eight cities the size of Chattanooga.
Anti-nuclear activists insist it would be far too costly and risky to finish the original Bellefonte units, which were designed in the 1960s and build in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Nobody in their right mind would try to go back and salvage an old Babcock & Wilcox design that has never operated in the United States and never operated successfully in the world,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an anti-nuclear group based in Knoxville. “This kind of amnesia and arrogance is what TVA got itself into back in the ’70s when they thought they could overcome any nuclear challenge.”
TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum Jr. said seven other Babcock & Wilcox reactors are operating successfully in the United States, although not the specific design built at Bellefonte.
Mr. McCollum said TVA will take a cautious and measured approach to studying Bellefonte over the next year, but the rising costs of alternative power generation and other power plants have changed the economics of finishing the original units.
“The amount of embedded value that we have in the ground in the concrete, steel and buildings at Bellefonte has gone up significantly when you look at alternative sources and the increasing costs of construction,” Mr. McCollum said. “It’s prudent to take another look to see if it would be feasible.”
Sheila Shepard, vice president of Economic Development Authority in Jackson County, where Bellefonte is located, said the community would welcome the completion of the unfinished reactors.
“We know that the power is going to be needed, and we feel like nuclear is clean and safe and could bring a lot of jobs to our area,” she said.