TVA thins ranks of Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant contractors

TVA thins ranks of Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant contractors

March 16th, 2012 by Pam Sohn in Business Around the Region

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson The cooling towers at TVA's Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Ala., tower 500 feet above the ground.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson The cooling towers at...

TVA on Thursday laid off about half of the 900 contractors working on the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant project.

Bellefonte, the Tennessee Valley Authority's half-finished plant in Hollywood, Ala., about 42 miles southwest of Chattanooga, is being readied for completion, but TVA officials say the slow pace of work on Watts Bar Nuclear Plant's new Unit 2 reactor has forced the Bellefonte preparation work to slow.

"With construction at Bellefonte not beginning until fuel is loaded at Watts Bar 2, we are resetting priorities" at Bellefonte, said David Stinson, vice president of the project, in a statement. "Resetting priorities at Bellefonte at this time makes good business sense."

TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said 430 contractors will be affected by the layoffs and contractor releases, which began Thursday and will continue through mid-May.

Only about 85 of the contractors worked at the Bellefonte site. The others worked in satellite offices at other locations.

Johnson said TVA is expected to announce Watts Bar Unit 2's new projected completion date, along with its new estimated completion budget. TVA officials announced some months ago that the Watts Bar unit is over budget and behind schedule. The TVA board had directed the Bellefonte construction work not begin until Watts Bar Unit 1 is complete.

Stinson said TVA officials will be defining a time frame "to verify remaining construction work" and timetables at Bellefonte.

Those new plans and timetables will include incorporating lessons learned from Fukushima and Watts Bar Unit 2 construction, he said.

Among the problems identified at Watts Bar are planning problems that put too many contractors in too little space with ill-defined work plans, officials have said.

The contractor cutbacks at Bellefonte come as TVA prepares to trim staff at the nearby Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Ala.

The oldest six boilers at Widows Creek have been idled and will be shut down as part of TVA's agreement with environmental regulators to trim coal plant smog emissions.

"As a result, TVA needs to reduce staffing at the plant by about 90 positions from the current 300 or so," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.

TVA is asking for voluntary resignations or retirements. But if those don't prove enough, then layoffs may be made this year.

TVA also is expected to seek voluntary retirements or cut staff at its John Sevier plant near Rogersville, Tenn., and the New Johnsonville Fossil Plant in Middle Tennessee.

Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.