TVA to revive mothballed Bellefonte

The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to revive one of its unfinished nuclear reactors from the 1970s before pursuing the next generation of nuclear power.

TVA directors will be asked today to spend $250 million in the next fiscal year for engineering and equipment work for the possible completion of the Unit 1 reactor at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Hollywood, Ala.

If approved by the TVA board and federal regulators, the mothballed unit could be completed and generate power by 2018 - 44 years after work first began at the 1,600-acre site on the Tennessee River.

"In almost any scenario for the future, we are going to need more clean energy and we think nuclear power has to be part of that mix," TVA President Tom Kilgore said.

During a board meeting today in Knoxville, TVA directors are expected to include the recommended Bellefonte investments in TVA's $12 billion budget for fiscal 2011.

The Bellefonte timelinePower starts and stops1974 - Construction permit issued for two reactors at Bellefonte1985 - Unit 2 work is suspended when the reactor was considered 58 percentcomplete1988 - Unit 1 work is suspended when the reactor was considered 88 percentcomplete2005 - Bellefonte is selected as the test site for the Westinghouse AP-1000,one of the first of the next generation of nuclear plants2006 - TVA cancels NRC permits for original Bellefonte reactors, claimingthe units are too expensive to complete and the new reactor design would bebetter at the site2007 -Application filed for combined operating license for AP-10002008- TVA reverses decision to scrap original reactors and petitions the NRCto reinstate the deferred license for Bellefonte¹s original reactors2009 - NRC reinstates deferred construction permit for Bellefonte units 1and 2; TVA decides to focus on only one reactor for the immediate future2010 - TVA completes study on costs of finishing the original reactors orbuilding new and decides to complete the original reactors2018 - If approved and licensed, Bellefonte could begin generating powerSource: Tennessee Valley Authority

Critics complain that TVA shouldn't move ahead with any decision about Bellefonte until it completes its comprehensive power plan for the future, billed as the Integrated Resource Plan for 2030. The draft version of the plan is scheduled to be released in September, but the TVA board isn't expected to adopt the power planning guide until next spring.

The plan is expected to lay out TVA's power-generating plans - including nuclear, coal, hydro, solar and even conservation techniques - for the next 20 years.

"There is no need to make any decision now that couldn't be made later," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which opposes building the Bellefonte plant.

"TVA's power sales have fallen off in the past two years and any future load growth can be met with energy efficiency if TVA gets serious about promoting conservation and efficiency," he said.

Kilgore said the utility won't make a final decision on building the Bellefonte unit until next spring. But he said TVA needs to budget money for Bellefonte to complete more studies and order steam generators and plant simulators that take years to design and build.

Old over the new

TVA has spent the past two years studying whether to finish the old reactors or build new ones at Bellefonte. Ashok Bhatnagar, TVA's senior vice president of nuclear operations, said finishing the original Babcock & Wilcox reactor started in 1974 will be cheaper and faster to complete than constructing the new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor also proposed for the site.

Bellefonte was targeted by the nuclear industry four years ago as the first test site for the AP-1000, which is advertised as simpler and safer than older reactors.

But the industry has since switched the AP-1000 test site to Georgia Power Co.'s Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

"If you completely risk evaluate the project, it is about $1 billion less to finish the existing unit versus the AP-1000 and there is about a 12-month earlier completion with the existing reactor," Bhatnagar said.

TVA will continue to maintain the option of building the AP-1000 reactor at Bellefonte but not in the next decade, he said.

If the board decides to go ahead with the Bellefonte proposal, it will mark a reversal of TVA's decision in 2006, when the utility calculated it would be better to build the new Westinghouse design than to finish the incomplete B&W unit.

But rising material and construction costs, combined with delays in getting final design certification for the AP-1000, changed the economics between finishing the old or building new, TVA officials said.

"It flipped itself as we realized that we had the design of the old plant done and yet, to be finished for the AP-1000, plus the material costs of building an entirely new plant, made that option more expensive," Bhatnagar said.

Scrapping the original

Anti-nuclear groups question the wisdom of finishing the original Bellefonte reactor after it was idled from 1988 to 2006, then gutted of its two steam generators and other equipment.

Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and former executive at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, Conn., told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this spring that TVA should not be allowed to reinstate its license since the Bellefonte reactor was not maintained in accordance with NRC regulations after TVA canceled its construction permit in 2006.

"Instead of following regulations during the past three years, the plant stripped and cannibalized its equipment and the NRC stopped inspecting the Bellefonte site activities," Gundersen said in testimony prepared for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

But Bhatnagar said tests have confirmed the reliability of what was built at Bellefonte. He said TVA now is ready to move from the study of the reactor and its costs to the initial engineering, licensing and equipment procurement.

"We have to re-establish the configuration of the plant to make sure that the drawings and the design of the plant match," he said.

Goodrich "Dus" Rogers, director of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority in Alabama, will lead a delegation at today's Knoxville board meeting in support of the completion of Bellefonte.

"We've seen those cooling towers sit idle at Bellefonte for decades and we want to see some steam come out of those towers so TVA can get more clean energy and we can get more jobs," he said.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: TVA wants to finish original Bellefonte reactor

Article: TVA eyes older nuke option

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