Bellefonte's future spurs nuclear debate

Bellefonte's future spurs nuclear debate

December 9th, 2009 in News

Coming Sunday

An inside look at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. -Twenty-one years after TVA halted work on Alabama's biggest construction project, Jackson County officials say they want the federal utility to restart the nuclear plant work to help power the local economy and the Tennessee Valley electricity grid.

Ron Bailey, 61 and a former mayor of Scottsboro, said community leaders continue to support plans for a new reactor at Bellefonte - either by finishing the old or building new.

"As a taxpayer and ratepayer, I can't help think what a waste of money it is to see that plant sitting there idle," Mr. Bailey said of the unfinished $4 billion complex in Hollywood, Ala. "But as an elected official and Chamber of Commerce supporter, I also see the plant as a tremendous opportunity for our future for both jobs and energy."

Rick Roden, president of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said he believes more than 95 percent of the people in the Scottsboro area want to see TVA build or finish a nuclear reactor at Bellefonte.

"The question of whether to build a nuclear plant here or not was settled a long time ago, and we know that we are going to need the power that this plant can produce," Mr. Roden said.

But during a public hearing here Tuesday night, anti-nuclear activists said they want the Tennessee Valley Authority finally to give up on its 35-year-old design for the Bellefonte site.

"Nuclear power is simply too dangerous and too unreliable," said Gary Morgan, a Scottsboro resident active in the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

Mr. Morgan said TVA should convert the plant to a combined-cycle natural gas plant, which he said would be less expensive to build and not generate as much radioactive waste.

Lou Zeller, senior scientist for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, said TVA shouldn't put any nuclear reactor at Bellefonte.

Staff file photo: Supporters and critics of nuclear power squared off Tuesday night at a public hearing about the future of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.

Staff file photo: Supporters and critics of nuclear...

"In addition to being a public health hazard, nuclear power is expensive," he said.

TVA officials are considering whether to finish the two incomplete reactors at the Bellefonte plant in Hollywood or build an entirely new next-generation reactor designed by Westinghouse Corp. at the site. Jack Bailey, TVA's vice president for new nuclear generation, estimates it will cost about $3.5 billion to $4 billion to finish the Unit 1 reactor at Bellefonte, where construction was begun in 1974 and halted in 1988. The utility estimates that building one of the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors also proposed for the site would cost $4 billion to $5 billion.

TVA's draft environmental impact statement concludes it would be cheaper now for TVA to complete the Unit 1 reactor at Bellefonte rather than to erect one of the new AP1000 reactors. But engineers still are assessing both the current condition of the plant and the cost estimates for the Westinghouse design, Mr. Bailey said.

In its newest supplement to its environmental analysis of the 1,600-acre Bellefonte site, TVA aquatic biologists identified an endangered species - the pink mucket mussel - in the Tennessee River near the plant. TVA has requested a permit to build the plant despite the presence of the mussel, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still is reviewing, according to project director Ruth Horton.

TVA will accept comments about the Bellefonte plant through Dec. 28 and will publish by February its final environmental assessment on any new reactor at Bellefonte. The TVA board is scheduled to decide in April whether to finish one of the existing reactors, build one of the new AP1000 reactors or do neither.