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Plant restart renews debate about nuclear power

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Valley Authority officials say nuclear power is an important option in diversifying its power mix and meeting the needs of a growing population.

But environmental activists and others worry that the cost and dangers associated with nuclear power generation are being overlooked.

TVA recently restarted the third and final reactor at its Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, ending a 22-year shutdown prompted by safety concerns. Browns Ferry is located along the banks of the Tennessee River.

The Unit 1 reactor was restarted after a five year, $1.8 billion renovation. It was shut two days later after a leaky pipe spilled a non-radioactive fluid.

The restart of Unit 1 was the country’s first increase in nuclear generating capacity this century, though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects 19 applications to build and operate 28 new reactors.

Jack Bailey, TVA’s vice president of nuclear generation development, said the federal utility could add two or three more reactors to the six it currently operates — three at Browns Ferry, one at Watts Bar in Spring City and two at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy.

“We certainly could use more nuclear without having too much risk in the nuclear basket,” Bailey said.

Critics say nuclear plants’ construction costs make the projects unreasonable. As part of its ambitious nuclear program in the 1970s, TVA invested $10.9 billion in projects that were never completed.

The latest wave of potential nuclear construction nationwide is fueled by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provides loan guarantees, production tax credits and insurance protection for utilities pursuing nuclear power projects.

“The numbers don’t add up,” Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace, said. “Basically, these corporations are looking for a government handout to subsidize their reactors.”

The nuclear industry is pitching atomic power as a clean way to light homes, but some environmentalists bristle at that description. Nuclear production still creates a waste byproduct that remains radioactive for thousands of years.

“We cringe every time we hear nuclear power put out there as a ‘clean’ energy source,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Bailey said nuclear is an important aspect of TVA’s plans for the future. But he said the agency — along with all utilities — will have to cast a wide net to solve the country’s energy problems.

“It’s not the only option, and going forward the U.S. probably has to take advantage of nearly all the options that are reasonable, because it’s going to be hard to build and sustain or conserve the amount of energy we’re going to need for the future,” he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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