Haney wants to buy nuclear plant by November, transfer construction permit from TVA

Bellefonte Nuclear Plant is pictured Monday, July 30, 2018 in Hollywood, Alabama. Nuclear Development LLC successfully bid $111 million for the Bellefonte site, with its two partially-built pressurized water reactors plus infrastructure, including switchyards, office buildings, warehouses, cooling towers, water pumping stations and railroad spurs.
photo David Wayne, a technician, talks about different aspects of the control room at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant Monday, July 30, 2018 in Hollywood, Alabama. Nuclear Development has been working to resume the construction of the partially-completed Bellefonte facility upon completion of Nuclear Development's acquisition of Bellefonte.

Former Chattanooga developer Franklin L. Haney is trying to become the first American to transfer the construction permit for an unfinished nuclear power plant from a major power utility to a startup business.

Haney's Nuclear Development LLC outlined plans to federal regulators Tuesday to both purchase the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant from the Tennessee Valley Authority and apply to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to transfer the construction permit for building the twin-reactor plant by November. In a pre-application meeting with the staff of the NRC's Office of New Reactors in Rockville, Maryland, Bill McCollum of Nuclear Development said the new company is moving toward raising equity and preparing building plans to finish the Bellefonte plant in Hollywood, Alabama.

photo Bill McCollum with Nuclear Development LLC speaks during a briefing at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant Monday, July 30, 2018 in Hollywood, Alabama. SNC-Lavalin and Nuclear Development LLC briefed local officials and industry partners on a proposed plan to proceed with the completion of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.

McCollum, a former TVA chief operating officer, said last month that TVA and other engineering contractors have already done much of the work to determine what remains to be done to finish and start up the abandoned facility.

Nuclear Development LLC won the bidding to acquire the Bellefonte plant in November 2016 with an offer of $111 million – nearly three times the minimum bid set by TVA but only a fraction of the billions of dollars that TVA has spent over the past four decades building Bellefonte.

TVA suspended work on Bellefonte 30 years ago and finally gave up on finishing the plant altogether two years ago when the federal utility determined it would not need the power that Bellefonte could generate.

Haney's group has until Nov. 14 to close the purchase of Bellefonte, although he could ask for an extension of the pending purchase from TVA.

Nuclear Development LLC plans to spend as much as $13 billion to make the nuclear generator operational. According to a company statement, the project is expected to create as many as 4,000 temporary construction jobs and help support 1,500 permanent jobs once the plant is running.

"The Bellefonte Nuclear Station will help transform communities across the region," Haney said in a statement at the time of his purchase.

Although TVA suspended most of its construction work at Bellefonte in 1988, the federal utility has maintained its construction permit on the plant. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Nuclear Development will have to demonstrate it has the engineering and financial qualifications to meet the requirements of the construction permit. The NRC has not previously approved the transfer of a construction permit for a nuclear plant, although it has done so for several operating plants.

Nuclear Development LLC has contracted with the Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin to manage the Bellefonte completion and last month 22 engineering and design companies came to the plant to discuss how the work could be completed.

Haney called those involved with Bellefonte are "the finest team of nuclear engineers" and said they "will bring Bellefonte to its long-awaited completion" at a much lesser cost than new nuclear reactors now being built in Georgia.

Anti-nuclear activists are skeptical of such claims, however.

"The equipment (at Bellefonte) has been cannibalized," said Sandra Kurtz, a Chattanooga environmental community activist and chair of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance. "What's left shows signs of rust and deterioration. Most old records were pitched when TVA opted out (and decided against finishing Bellefonte)."

Haney has secured more than $2 billion of production tax credits for Bellefonte, if it is completed, and he as applied to the U.S. Department of Energy for up to $5 billion of federal loan guarantees to help pay for the completion of both reactors at the plant. But so far, DOE has yet to award those loans for the Bellefonte project.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflesssner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340