TVA's planned completion of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Alabama got another green light from federal nuclear regulators Friday, the eve of the plant's original 37-year-old construction permit expiration.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the permit, first issued in 1974, and it is now valid until Oct. 1, 2020.
"It's really a paperwork kind of thing," NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said Friday, noting the permit is classified in "deferred status."
"They still will have to provide more data and do a number of things to get the permit upgraded to active status," he said. "And, at this point, they cannot begin construction until the permit is put at active status."
TVA spokesman Ray Golden said the deferred status means TVA cannot physically do any construction work toward completion of Bellefonte, but workers can use the time to complete design and procurement work there, and they can continue to refine the licensing for the plant.
"We have to give the NRC four months notice before construction begins," he said, adding that in August the TVA board specifically asked -- and TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore has said -- that Bellefonte construction not begin until fuel is loaded at Watts Bar.
Watts Bar will not be completed until sometime in 2013, TVA has said.
Utility officials also have said they hope to complete Bellefonte as soon as 2018.
Bellefonte Nuclear Plant has been idle in Jackson County, Ala., for several years.
But TVA in late 2008 asked the NRC to reinstate the construction permit that the utility had withdrawn two years before.
NRC reinstated the permit to "deferred" status in 2009 -- good until today.
TVA began building the plant in 1974 but suspended work when power demand slowed in 1985. In 2006, the utility began gutting the plant, which its officials had once said was 80 percent complete.
In August, TVA's board voted to refit and finish the plant, now considered about 50 percent complete.
TVA already has invested about $6 billion in Bellefonte and expects to spent nearly $5 billion more to complete the plant and one reactor.
Citizens opposing the plant's completion were not happy with the NRC action Friday.
"I'm complaining all over the place about this," said Garry Morgan, who lives about four miles from the plant and is a member of several citizens and environmental groups who have filed a lawsuit over the once-canceled construction permit.
The NRC's 2009 permit reinstatement "ignores the obvious legal and scientific deficiencies of the obsolete, unsafe 1970s era nuclear construction permit. Their actions ignore citizen safety," Morgan said.
The plant is expected to supply the power needs for about 750,000 homes, according to TVA officials.