HOLLYWOOD, Ala. - U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., urged the Tennessee Valley Authority on Tuesday to nearly double its nuclear power generation by finishing or building a total of four reactors at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site here.
"This is a fabulous technological engineering facility," Sen. Sessions said after touring the half-finished Bellefonte plant. "I am more motivated than ever to see this facility operate and am more confident than ever that it will."
BELLEFONTE AT A GLANCE
Location: Hollywood, Ala.
Investment: $4.2 billion
Status: Construction permit restored last month for "terminated" units 1 and 2, which are about half built; TVA studying new design to possibly build units 3 and 4 by 2020.
Power output: 1,200 megawatts from each of four proposed units. Each reactor can supply two cities the size of Chattanooga.
History: Construction began in 1974; work on unit 2 was halted in 1985 and work on unit 2 was stopped in 1988. TVA agreed to pursue a new reactor design in 2006.
The Alabama Republican, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said TVA will need what he said will be "clean and safe" power from more nuclear reactors here. Sen. Sessions urged TVA to finish the original two reactors it began building in 1974 and add the next generation of reactors on the same site.
"There is just no doubt that this will save money for the people in this region," he said.
But anti-nuclear activists question such savings.
"TVA began gutting part of the original Bellefonte plant, and the new reactors are still an unproven technology that seems to get more expensive the more it is developed," said Sara Barczak, energy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Sen. Sessions conceded "it is still an unknown" how much, if any, the Obama administration will push for nuclear power.
The president will appoint members to both the TVA board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this year, and those panels could shape how much investment in nuclear power is made in the Tennessee Valley. The Obama administration has balked at rapid deployment of nuclear reprocessing facilities and raised more questions about licensing the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage plant.
"Those two decisions were not good," Sen. Sessions said. "There is a great deal of fear among those who may invest five or six billion dollars in a new nuclear plant that they don't get caught in a regulatory nightmare."
NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki said federal regulators have tried to be more responsive in the past decade to those the NRC regulates. She said she was impressed by TVA's "very deliberate manner in which they are looking at every component" of those plants it is reviving and finishing. TVA now operates six reactors and plans to finish another reactor in Tennessee by 2012.
TVA suspended construction at the original twin-reactor complex here in 1988 when the growth in power demand slowed and plant building costs soared. In 2006, TVA ultimately scrapped plans to ever finish the original reactors in favor of building a new simpler and less costly reactor design from Westinghouse Corp. known as the AP-1000.