TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore defends nuclear power record

photo Tom Kilgore, CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore told Chattanooga area engineers Thursday that sooner or later nuclear operators will be able to mine fuel to make electricity from their own spent fuel wastes.

"I'll make a prediction," he said to a questioner who asked about spent fuel recycling. "One of these days we'll go out there and start mining those dry casks," he said of the Tennessee Valley Authority's onsite storage areas for used and highly radioactive nuclear waste.

"France does it now. We just don't have the political will to do it," Kilgore said.

Kilgore was the keynote speaker at the Chattanooga Engineers Week 2012 banquet, and his primary message was to explain "why we still need nuclear power."

Kilgore said nuclear power is debated a lot, especially after the Fukushima Dai-ichi triple meltdowns in the wake of a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March. But the answer of why nuclear power still is important is in its lower cost to operate.

"We build nuclear to keep your rates down. The best economic tool we have - and we are in the economic development business - is to keep rates low," Kilgore said.

One man told Kilgore he had read news of Watts Bar nuclear safety problems and news of TVA's financial struggle to creatively finance the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant's completion with the John Sevier combined-cycle gas plant's sale and lease back. "How can I be assured that TVA is taking care of these safety problems?" he asked.

Kilgore said he was heartened by the creative financial effort because TVA has a congressionally imposed credit limit that doesn't consider its real credit history or ability to pay.

And he said he was pleased with the decision of Mike Skaggs, TVA's nuclear chief, to call a work "stand down" to get workers' attention at Watts Bar. That action came when contract workers there removed a part from the operating reactor rather than from the unfinished reactor where they were supposed to be working.

The mistake was caught quickly, and there were no injuries or public endangerment, TVA has said. The problem was one of management, and the management team stopped work to get control and fix the problem, he said.