TVA recommends conventional reactor in Alabama

Construction would take a decade.

The Tennessee Valley Authority staff on Monday recommended building a conventional reactor at the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in northeastern Alabama rather than pick a reactor design that has not yet been built in the United States.

TVA in a statement identified the $4 billion project as the "preferred" option for the utility's board to vote on at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Public comments on TVA's final supplemental environmental impact statement are being accepted until June 21.

TVA staff is recommending a single 1,260-megawatt Babcock and Wilcox-designed reactor instead of an advanced Westinghouse AP1000 design. TVA's statement said construction would take about a decade.

None of the next-generation Westinghouse reactors are in the United States but several are being built in China.

The utility also considered the option of doing nothing at the site near Hollywood, Ala. TVA said in its statement it will need to replace electrical generating capacity as it phases out some coal-fired plants and reduces air emissions.

Construction at Bellefonte was started in 1974 but was stopped in 1988. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009 approved TVA's request to reinstate Bellefonte's original construction permits while the utility evaluated its two reactor sites.

The science director for Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which opposes TVA building any nuclear reactor at Bellefonte, said Monday that picking the older technology is surprising.

"So much for the newer, inherently safe designs," Louis Zeller said. "It seems like they have reached back into the past to select one of the oldest technologies available to them."

City officials in Scottsboro, Ala., recently approved a resolution urging TVA to finish the Bellefonte plant or to build a new reactor unit beside it.

TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said projected construction costs for the Babcock and Wilcox reactor and the Westinghouse AP1000 are comparable but "schedule" might favor the conventional design.

TVA has previously had contractors pull out steel tubes and pipes at the unfinished plant. A TVA executive previously said the utility transferred some equipment to other TVA plants and sold tubes and pipes to scrap vendors.

The nation's largest public utility has nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Source: Bloomsburg, By BILL POOVEY