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TVA plans to add 2 nuclear reactors in N. Alabama

From Staff Reports

SPRING CITY, Tenn.— The Tennessee Valley Authority will submit applications to build two nuclear reactors in North Alabama under the government’s streamlined licensing process, TVA officials said.

The new reactors would be at the Bellefonte nuclear plant site in Hollywood. The utility began constructing the Bellefonte plant in the 1970s but never completed it.

The utility also plans to decide by August whether to spend up to $2 billion to complete the unfinished Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Sunday.

Those three reactors, in combination with the Unit 1 reactor soon to be restarted at Browns Ferry near Athens after a 22-year shutdown, would give TVA four additional operating reactors.

Unit 1 is under reconstruction, and TVA officials said in December that they were on schedule to restart it in May of this year if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved.

TVA’s total tally could top $7 billion for design and construction, officials said.

“We need more power and, at this point, nuclear looks to be the best option,” TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said.

TVA currently operates three nuclear plants: Sequoyah (with two reactors) near Chattanooga, Watts Bar (one reactor) at Spring City, and Browns Ferry (two reactors).

A consortium of utilities and contractors known as NuStart Energy LLC will split the projected $50 million costs with the U.S. Department of Energy for initial design of the two reactors for Bellefonte.

TVA officials said they will benefit from new government rules that provide a more streamlined licensing process and government incentives such as production tax credits and risk insurance for new nuclear plants.

No new nuclear reactors have been ordered in the United States since a 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania raised public concerns about nuclear power and caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revamp its rules.

Changing attitudes

But industry officials believe concerns about global warming have changed attitudes about nuclear energy. Nationwide, U.S. utilities are pursuing plans for up to 31 new reactors.

Proponents say nuclear power is an attractive alternative to coal, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and air pollution.

Nuclear energy also provides an alternative to natural gas, which has been buffeted by high and volatile prices.

The Bush administration and some Republican lawmakers also are touting the resurgence of nuclear energy, along with a new-to-the-United States reprocessing and recycling technology for highly radioactive spent fuel waste.

“Nuclear power is almost the only answer for clean electricity to meet our growing needs,” said Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is co-chairman of the TVA Congressional Caucus and a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “When I look at all of the options, I think nuclear is the leading technology.”

Demand growth

TVA estimates electricity demand will grow 1.9 percent a year. To meet all of that increase with nuclear reactors would require TVA nearly to double its nuclear generation in the next decade.

But critics question the safety and cost of the plan. Nearly 30 years ago, TVA scrapped most of what then was the nation’s most costly and ambitious nuclear program.

“Of all the places on Earth that have given nuclear power a shot and failed, the Tennessee Valley has got to be No. 1,” said S. David Freeman, a former TVA chairman who has headed four other electric utilities across the country.

10 reactors canceled

The 74-year old utility sank more than $8 billion in the 1970s and 1980s into 10 nuclear reactors that were canceled before they were finished. TVA spent another $6 billion to build the first reactor at Watts Bar, making it the most expensive nuclear plant of its size ever built.

“TVA’s electric rates would be a whole lot lower today if they wouldn’t have tried to build all those expensive nuclear plants,” Freeman said. “It’s just baffling to me that TVA would want to get into that business again.”

TVA President Tom Kilgore insists the agency now is taking a slower and more cost-effective approach to adding nuclear power than it did before, when it tried to build and operate up to 17 reactors at one time.

“If we do decide to proceed with more nuclear units, we’re going to make sure they are well designed in advance and are built one at a time,” Kilgore said.

After costly repairs in the 1980s, TVA’s five operating reactors are now in the top quartile of U.S. nuclear plants for performance and safety, according to Kilgore.

TVA provides wholesale electricity to 158 distributors serving about 8.6 million consumers in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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