The saga of the future Bellefonte nuclear power plant continues – but not with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on board.
Almost 47 years after construction began on the Bellefonte plant in northeast Alabama, TVA is relinquishing its building permit for America’s largest unfinished nuclear power plant. As the headline proclaimed in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Sunday, the announced surrender of this nuclear license marks the end of an era.
“TVA has asked to withdraw its request that would have extended Bellefonte’s permits until October 2022,” NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said earlier this month. “Staff are processing this request, and in the absence of further developments, the permits will expire at the beginning of October.”
And now? TVA still owns the 1,600-acre site, as well as the plant that never – and probably never will – produce the first nuclear power spark. But that doesn’t mean he can’t generate power in some other way. A gas plant? Ugh. A field of wind? It seems unlikely given the calm of northern Alabama. A solar power station? It might be more of a possibility. All transmission equipment and the electrical network are ready. And we’ve been asking this question since 2016.
But don’t get upset. We have been here before.
In 2006, TVA canceled the building permit for Bellefonte after work on the original reactor ceased in 1988. Then, the public service scrapped the two steam generators from the plant and from the plant. other equipment before doing an about-face. The utility then decided to dust off the factory with damaged shutters and ask the NRC to reinstate its license.
Anti-nuclear groups have questioned the wisdom of the NRC to reinstate the license. Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and former Nuclear Energy Services executive in Danbury, Connecticut, argued to the NRC that during and after TVA ripped up and sold vital parts of the plant for scrap, the Bellefonte reactor was not not maintained in accordance with NRC regulations. . These recordings could not simply be recreated, he noted.
TVA claimed that the “tests” revealed that everything was fine and the NRC reinstated the license.
But TVA has changed direction again. Fast forward to last month when a federal judge ruled that TVA could in fact cancel the sale of the plant to financier Franklin L. Haney and his new company, Nuclear Development LLC.
Right now – having chosen, built, scrapped, rebuilt, abandoned, put up for sale, agreed to sell for pennies on the dollar and finally went to court to defend the non-sale of the Bellefonte nuclear power plant – VAT taxpayers and taxpayers lost somewhere between $ 6 billion (according to TVA) and $ 9 billion (according to a 2018 letter from five members of Congress).
The final sale of Bellefonte to Haney was conditional on him and his company clearing enough hurdles to gain the trust of the NRC and / or TVA to secure the transfer of this building permit. When Haney was unable to make a first and then another extended deadline for the transfer, TVA abandoned the sale. Haney chased the utility and lost. He has until October to appeal.
So we ask for more. Now what?
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said on Wednesday that TVA would not make any immediate decision.
“But we are not taking anything off the table,” he added, noting that the public service is seeking “the opinion of those [leaders and people] in Jackson County on what they want us to do with the property – whether it’s developing it ourselves or seeing it revert to some sort of productive use by another business, and what that might look like. “
Pressed on the issue of a solar farm on Bellefonte’s vast acres, Hopson said solar panels in that area would produce between 160 and 300 megawatts of electricity – about a quarter of what Bellefonte would have generated as a nuclear power plant. if she had already produced one. spark. Likewise, he said, apart from building a solar farm, its maintenance would require far fewer workers than a nuclear power plant. On the other hand, Bellefonte did not employ more than about 25 or 30 people for most of its nearly 50 years.
But – on the bright side – as he said, nothing is out of place.
In February 2020, TVA said it would turn to the sun for a greater share of its future power and increase its solar power capacity by 44% from 2019 by adding 484 megawatts of new contract solar production. This included a $ 200 million solar farm near Columbus, Mississippi that would generate and store electrical power.
TVA also began around this time to explore whether to purchase 2,474 acres in Alabama near Muscle Shoals to build a 227 megawatt solar farm – the largest solar power generation project owned by TVA.
Hopson said that the “strategic intent and guiding principles” of the May 2021 TVA notes that the utility has solar commitments to date of more than 2,300 megawatts of solar capacity that are expected to be commissioned by the end of 2023. Including these projects, TVA expects to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power. power by 2035 – an increase of 24 times compared to today.
These 10,000 megawatts of solar power would be equivalent to more than eight potential Bellefonte reactors.
So, friends, we ask again: and Bellefonte?
Be bold. Look at the sun.