NRC takes first step to reinstate construction licenses, but there are still big decisions ahead for TVA
Think of all the metaphors about Phoenix birds rising out of the ashes and then apply them to what’s happening on a 1,600 acre site along the banks of the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. There life may be restored for two nuclear reactors that most had given up for dead.
Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agreed to upgrade the status of two partially complete reactors from “terminated” to "deferred.” It is the first step by NRC to reinstate the construction license for the two plants. However, it doesn’t mean TVA has decided to complete them or take any other actions.
According to the NRC’s Eric Leeds, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, “This is just one step in a long list of actions TVA must complete before they can resume construction at Bellefonte.”
The utility has several options for the site which include completing its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, building another new reactor at the site, pursuing energy efficiency and demand management; or, do nothing. At one time, TVA had a more robust set of options which included either re-starting construction of the two original 1,200 MW reactors or building two new Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000s. Since then TVA had limited its options to completing or building one additional nuclear reactor at the site.
According to Leeds, placing Bellefonte in “deferred” status lets TVA evaluate whether it makes sense to complete construction and then attempt to license the reactors for operation. TVA has different time frames to make up its mind. The permit for Unit 1 expires 10/01/11 and for Unit 2 10/01/14. TVA says it is too early to say whether it will seek to extend the permits.
Lucy you got a lot of explaining to do
According to a Jan 16 report in the New York Times, TVA spent the equivalent of $4.5 billion in today’s dollars on the two reactors but didn’t finish either one of them. After TVA decided not to complete the two reactors in 1988, some of the equipment was removed from the construction sites. TVA says in 2010 the condition of the two plant is open to question.
Terry Johnson, a spokesman for TVA, told the newspaper Unit 1 isn’t 87% complete. He said the number is closer to 55%. He also said that the instrument and control systems installed in the 1980s could not be used today.
Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, told the New York Times TVA has a lot of questions to answer about the condition of the equipment from the original builders. He said TVA has to make the case that the equipment the utility wants to use can meet current safety requirements.
The NRC isn’t the only party with these questions. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are challenging the NRC’s actions to change the status of the two reactors.
TVA still has a lot of engineering evaluation work and number crunching before it makes up its mind what to do. In a series of statements over the summer of 2008, TVA's CEO talked about how the utility will evaluate the options.
"We intend to thoroughly explore potential power supply sources to determine the best and most cost-effective methods of meeting future power needs in the Tennessee Valley,” said TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum.
“That includes energy efficiency and demand reduction, which we are currently pursuing aggressively, as well as adding new generating units as the demand for power grows.“
McCollum said that it makes good business sense to look at existing TVA assets at Bellefonte and evaluate them along with other power supply alternatives. Reinstating the construction permits is the first step to determine if completing the units is viable.
“As we look for the best choice for new base load generation we recognize that nuclear fuel costs are much more stable over the long term than what we’ve recently experienced with coal prices,” McCollum said. “Nuclear power is safe and reliable, reduces our carbon footprint and will help stabilize energy costs.”
According to an August 9, 2009, report by World Nuclear News, TVA said that it has identified the need for additional base load generation in the 2017 to 2020 time frame. TVA wants to have at least 50% of its generation portfolio comprised of low or zero carbon-emitting sources by the year 2020.
TVA has a long way to go to make a decision on what to build, if anything, at the Bellefonte plant. In the meantime, it is finishing the Watts Bar plant and it completed and re-started the 1,500 MW Browns Ferry reactor.
Prior coverage on this blog
- November 1, 2009 – What comes after Watts Barr?
- October 5, 2008 – There are some jobs government must do
- August 8, 2008 – TVA’s destiny revealed at Bellefonte
- June 16, 2008 – TVA awakens in a new nuclear era
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