Court dismisses environmental group's challenge to Bellefonte Nuclear Plant construction permit

Court dismisses environmental group's challenge to Bellefonte Nuclear Plant construction permit

February 21st, 2012 by Pam Sohn in News

The two cooling towers at the TVA Bellefonte Nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Ala., tower 500 feet above the ground. Staff File Photo

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An environmental group's effort to overturn the construction permits for the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant have hit a wall.

On Friday, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed their challenge on a technicality.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League had argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission overstepped its own rules in 2009 by restoring construction permits for Bellefonte, located in Hollywood, Ala., without new reviews and hearings.

NRC canceled the permits in 2006 at TVA's request, and the permits first had been reviewed and issued for Bellefonte's two reactors in 1974.

Judges concluded the environmental group had not appealed the final NRC action on the matter, and thus the court had no jurisdiction.

Louis Zeller, who filed the petition for Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said the court didn't look at the case on its merits.

"The decision of the judges was a bizarre one," Zeller said. "They elected to dodge the bullet. It's a bitter decision."

NRC applauded the ruling.

"The decision speaks for itself," said NRC spokesman Joey Ledford. "The NRC followed its processes and reached the proper decision and the court has agreed."

TVA also approved of the ruling.

"TVA believes that building Bellefonte is the right decision," said utility spokesman Scott Brooks. "We are pleased with the court's decision."

The TVA had asked NRC to restore the canceled permits in 2008, two years after deciding to scrap the then-80-percent-complete nuclear plant. Now TVA plans to complete the plant, currently estimated to be only half-finished after some of its machinery was torn out and sold by the utility for scrap.

TVA already had spent about $4.1 billion on the plant when the utility stopped construction because it was over budget and officials decided there was no immediate need for the additional power.

Last year, when resurrecting the plant's completion plan, TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said the estimated additional cost for finishing Bellefonte "is in the $4 [billion] to $5 billion range."

Work at Bellefonte is not scheduled to begin until the new reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., is completed and fuel is loaded, TVA officials have said.

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at 423-757-6346 or psohn@timesfreepress.com.