The Bellefonte nuclear plant site, targeted five years ago to become the first of America's next generation of nuclear power plants, instead may become the site of the nation's last nuclear plant built from the previous generation of designs.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will complete one of its 35-year-old, unfinished reactors at Bellefonte in the next decade if TVA directors accept the results of a year-long study of the utility's options.
In a new and final assessment of its options, TVA staff determined that, even with a $4 billion-plus price tag, it would be less expensive to finish one of the original reactors started at Bellefonte in 1974 rather than to pursue new plant and reactor designs.
Ashok Bhatnagar, the TVA senior vice president responsible for new nuclear power generation, said the study demonstrated that completing the original Bellefonte unit "would provide a reliable and safe source of power at significantly less cost per kilowatt hour than other options." The 404-page assessment now will go to directors of TVA for a possible decision at an Aug. 20 board meeting about the future of Bellefonte.
TVA officials stressed that no final decision has been made to resume construction at Bellefonte. But the study suggested that work should resume in coming years to finish what was begun in 1974 and suspended in 1988 after power demand growth slowed and the costs of building nuclear plants increased.
The study recommendation reverses a decision TVA made in 2006 to scrap the original two Bellefonte reactors. At the time, TVA claimed it would be too costly and not as reliable to complete the original Babcock & Wilcox-designed units as it would be to build new units.
But after gutting part of the plant, TVA reversed itself and asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission two years ago to reinstate its construction permit for the unfinished units. As costs for the new plant design by Westinghouse increased, TVA found it would be less expensive to finish what it already has built at the 1,600-acre site in Hollywood, Ala.
Bellefonte was picked six years ago to be the first site for a new Westinghouse nuclear plant design, but now the first of that design is to be built instead at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga.
TVA suspended construction at Bellefonte in 1988. But officials insist the two unfinished units have been well maintained.
Anti-nuclear activists questioned why TVA would spend billions of dollars more on a plant that was designed in the 1960s and '70s and has been idle for the past 22 years.
"That is a design (by Babcock and Wilcox) that dates back two generations and doesn't still operate anywhere in the United States," said Lou Zeller, science director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, an environmental group that has pledged to fight any Bellefonte license. "To stick with that design is just strange."
Louise Gorenflo, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team and a member of the advisory panel for TVA's Integrated Resource Plan, said TVA wouldn't have to spend the money to build Bellefonte if it did more to encourage energy conservation.
"If TVA would again become a national leader in promoting energy efficiency, we could push off the need to build new plants and still close down high-emission coal plants," she said. "There is simply no need to rush ahead with building Bellefonte."
With TVA's decision to finish its original reactor rather than built a new one, Plant Vogtle now likely will be the site of the first of the next generation of nuclear reactors.
* Location: Near Waynesboro, Ga.
* New units: Two of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors will be added to the original two Westinghouse pressurized water reactors .
* Owners: Georgia Power (45.7 percent), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (30 percent), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7 percent) and Dalton Utilities (1.6 percent)
* Status: NRC and Georgia Public Service Commission have authorized the start of site preparation for the units. Westinghouse still must get final approval of revised AP1000 design and the NRC must issue a combined operating license for the new units at Plant Vogtle.
Source: Georgia Power Co.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
TVA will accept comments about Bellefonte's environmental assessment through June 21:
* On the web at www.tva.com/environment/reports/blnp/index
* Send e-mails to BLNP@tva.com
* Fax comments to 865-632-3451
* Mail comments to: Ruth Horton, TVA, 400 Summit Hill Drive, Knoxville, TN 37902.
TVA Senior Vice President Anda Ray said that, since TVA launched its five separate environmental, engineering and financial analyses of Bellefonte last year, the federal utility also has increased its energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
"We've contracted for additional wind energy, refined plans for reducing emissions from TVA coal plants and updated the energy efficiency and demand response predictions in our load forecast," Ms. Ray said.
Local plant support
Bellefonte neighbors said Monday they are eager for TVA to do something with one of the South's largest unfinished construction projects.
"We're hoping this time TVA makes a decision to go forth and stands by that decision," said Goodrich "Dus" Rogers, president of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority in Alabama. Bellefonte is located in Jackson County.
"This takes an unproductive asset and puts it into the productive column. Long term, we'd like to see all four reactors built there," he said.
In Jackson, commissioners for all 13 incorporated municipalities, plus the county itself, voted last year to endorse completion of some type of reactor at Bellefonte.
"This would have a tremendous economic benefit for Jackson County, and I don't know of a single elected official in Alabama that is opposed to this project," Mr. Rogers said.
BELLEFONTE STARTS AND STOPS
1974 -- Construction permit issued and building begins.
1985 -- Construction halted on Unit 2, then 55 percent complete.
1988 -- Construction halted on Unit 1, then 88 percent complete.
1992 -- Engineering work resumed to prepare for restart of construction.
1994 -- Finishing Bellefonte is estimated to cost $2.6 billion; engineering work halted.
1996 -- TVA studies option of converting plant to combined-cycle, natural gas.
1998 -- Gas conversion option dropped; TVA offers plant to the Department of Energy to make bomb-grade tritium. DOE picks existing TVA plants to produce tritium.
2001 -- Texaco proposes using Bellefonte as site for coal gasification plant. Chattanooga financier Franklin Haney offers to finance completion of Bellefonte as a nuclear plant.
2002 -- Texaco drops proposal; TVA turns down Haney offer.
2004 -- TVA enters into talks with other utilities and joins NuStart to pursue new plant design for site.
2005 -- NuStart picks Bellefonte as site for Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant; TVA withdraws construction permit for original plant.
2006 -- NuStart to prepare licensing permit and engineering design for new plant. TVA sells stainless steel tubing, pipes at Bellefonte for scrap metal. Other equipment transferred to other plants.
2008 -- TVA decides to consider reviving Bellefonte units 1 and 2. NuStart switches site for first AP1000 reactor to Plant Vogtle in Georgia.
2009 -- Nuclear Regulatory Commission reinstates construction for original reactors in "terminated status"; Southern Nuclear receives Early Site Permit to start ground work on Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
February 2010 -- NRC upgrades construction permit for Bellefonte to "deferred status."
May 2010 -- TVA issues final environmental impact statement recommending TVA finish Unit 1 reactor.
2012-2020 -- Work on completing Unit 1 reactor at Bellefonte could proceed.
Sources: Tennessee Valley Authority, Nuclear Regulatory Commission