The decision to complete a nuclear reactor at TVA's Bellefonte plant has been put on hold while officials continue considering the lessons learned from Japan in its recent nuclear accident.
The issue is on TVA's board of directors agenda for Thursday with the notation: "Extension of Decision and Budget."
TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore has told residents who live near Bellefonte in Northeast Alabama that the utility staff has decided not to ask the TVA board to consider completion of the unit 1 reactor at this week's TVA board meeting in Chattanooga.
"The challenges at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant call for a studious and thoughtful review of the Japanese experience," Kilgore was quoted in the Scottsboro Daily Sentinel. "The prudent steps will be to listen, learn, incorporate those lessons into our designs and be in a position to proceed more confidently in the near future."
The board will consider the utility's new 20-year energy plan, which still calls for adding more nuclear power into the TVA energy mix.
Kilgore said the 500 people working at Bellefonte on plant engineering and assessment will not be laid off.
TVA has budgeted $248 million for engineering and assessment of the 37-year-old unfinished plant. It was designed in the 1960s, and construction began in 1974. Construction stopped and the plant was idled in 1985. The utility already has spent about $4.3 billion to build the plant and estimates it will cost another $4.3 billion to $4.7 billion to finish.
At one point, TVA officials said the plant was 90 percent complete, including its unit 1 Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor - a design that has operated only for a few years in Germany.
Kilgore said the tentative start-up date remains in the 2018-19 time frame, but the plan following the Japanese disaster is to "harden" the plant.
The earthquake and resulting tsunami in March damaged and flooded the Fukushima plant, leading to several explosions and the release of radiation into the air. How much radiation and how dangerous its effects are have not been completely determined, officials said.
Also on the agenda for Thursday's TVA board meeting is the utility's 20-year energy plan.
The $3 million blueprint calls for idling nearly half of the utility's coal-fired power plants, building more nuclear plants and ramping up energy conservation programs - at least until 2020.
Critics of the plan say it does not adequately use conservation and alternative clean energies such as solar and wind power or other technologies.
Louise Gorenflo, a member of the Tennessee Sierra Club, said TVA should not plan to cut off its conservation programs in 2020, about the same time the utility plans to begin significantly ramping up nuclear power.
Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said that, while he is pleased the plan suggests reducing coal power production, TVA far underplays the potential of solar power and wind power with its plan to add only 900 megawatts in renewable-source production to the 1,600 megawatts of wind power it already buys.
"The fact that the nation's largest public utility might plan to largely ignore the economic development and environmental benefits of renewable energy resources over the next 20 years is ridiculous." Smith said.