Enough energy would be produced to supply power to 750,000 homes if the Tennessee Valley Authority gets the go-ahead to complete a long-idled reactor at Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, southeast of Chattanooga near Scottsboro, Ala.
At a time when TVA has already agreed, for environmental reasons, to close about half of its coal-fired plants, the electricity that Bellefonte would produce is obviously very much needed. When construction on the Bellefonte plant was suspended in 1988, there had been a decline in power demand. But today, demand for energy is expected to rise, and nuclear power is one big part of meeting our nation's energy needs.
"[I]f we're going to talk about energy and electric policy, we've got to think bigger than just the customer demands we have now," said Tom Kilgore, CEO and president of TVA.
It is also important for the United States to reduce its reliance on oil imported from unstable or unfriendly nations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Assuming that approval is granted to complete the reactor at Bellefonte, it will be neither cheap nor quick. The reactor is about half complete, and it will cost $4 billion to $5 billion more to finish it, Kilgore noted. It is projected that Bellefonte could begin supplying energy by 2018.
Of course, the meltdown at a Japanese nuclear plant, caused when a tsunami struck the facility in March, has aroused concern about nuclear safety. That is understandable.
But do you know how many actual deaths there have been from radiation released at the Japanese plant? Zero! Not even one!
What's more, here in the United States we have an excellent safety record where nuclear power is concerned. In our worst nuclear incident, at Three Mile Island in 1979, not a single person was killed or seriously hurt.
Ray Hruby, general manager at Bellefonte, pointed out that the Alabama plant would be built to withstand a magnitude 8.9 earthquake. That is more than reasonable, considering that the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the region had a magnitude of only 4.7. The Bellefonte facility would also be able to withstand a massive EF5 tornado.
We have every confidence that Bellefonte can safely provide energy to hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in this region. And with coal-fired plants falling into disfavor because of their objectionable emissions, emissions-free nuclear power is increasingly important.
Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the long-term storage of radioactive waste from nuclear plants. But there again, the United States has managed its nuclear waste safely for decades. There is no reason to think the waste produced at Bellefonte would not also be managed in such a way as to protect public health.
It is high time to complete the work at Bellefonte, and we hope the project is approved soon.