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Unit 1 gets NRC green light; should restart this month

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant soon will be among the largest in the country.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region II office in Atlanta notified Tennessee Valley Authority officials that the agency is authorizing the restart of Unit 1.

The $1.8 billion project will give the plant three units that can produce enough power for nearly 2 million homes.

"There are only two or three plants in the nation that have three units," said TVA spokesman Terry Johnson. "It will make Browns Ferry the only three-unit plant TVA has."

Unit 1 first went online in 1974, and was TVA's first completed reactor. It caught fire in 1975 when a worker used a candle to check for leaks.

TVA shut it down, along with Browns Ferry's other two units, in 1985 to address safety and management issues. Unit 2 restarted in 1991, and Unit 3 restarted in 1995.

Unit 1 should restart this month, and it won't be like a 33-year-old unit or a unit that's been idle for 22 years.

During the decontamination phase of the unit in 2004, Dave Nelson, manager of project costs and project management, said materials and technology for nuclear plants have evolved. The unit's pipes are chrome, not steel, for example. TVA also installed a digital-feed water system and other technology to automate many tasks .

When Unit 1 restarts, it will mark the first increase in nuclear power production since TVA's Watts Bar went online 11 years ago.

And it will mark a new trend toward nuclear power.

During a November 2006 visit to Browns Ferry, NRC Chairman Dale Klein said the nuclear industry will need 90,000 workers between now and 2011. Klein said 14 entities had expressed interest in starting 29 new reactors.

Many of those proposed sites are in the Southeast, including one at Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga., and Entergy Nuclear's Grand Gulf station near Vicksburg, Miss. He said TVA also is evaluating whether to start Watts Bar's Unit 2.

TVA is the country's largest public utility, serving 8.7 million consumers in Alabama and six other states.

The NRC already has granted license renewal for Browns Ferry's units, which means the plant can operate Unit 1 until 2033, Unit 2 until 2034 and Unit 3 until 2036.

More reactors and longer life spans mean more spent fuel, but the proposed waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., has not broken ground.

Klein said the Department of Energy plans to submit a license application to the NRC for Yucca Mountain in June 2008.

Despite repository concerns, officials herald Unit 1's restart and the possibility of new reactors.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, said the nation should make the transition to producing more energy from nuclear generation.

"Nuclear power represents our best source of domestically produced, emissions-free energy," Sessions said.

"It is a cost-efficient way to produce electricity."

Johnson said restarting Unit 1 is a good business decision for TVA because it is cleaner than coal and diversifies TVA's power supply. Nuclear power accounts for 30 percent of TVA's supply, he said.

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