For Sale: Partially Constructed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors voted on May 5 to surplus the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant property in northern Alabama so it can be offered for sale and potentially put to better use.

The decision comes after months of consideration. On February 16, the TVA notified employees, customers, economic development interests, other stakeholders, and the media that it was considering selling the Bellefonte site and wanted public input. The public comment period closed on March 18.

Among the 79 comments received were three from prominent state politicians recommending a sale. Gov. Robert Brantley, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks all supported selling the site to an entity that would complete the plant rather than repurpose the property.

Several environmental advocacy groups—including the Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council, Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, and Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation—suggested that the TVA should retain ownership, but withdraw its nuclear construction licenses. The groups want to see the site used for renewable energy projects.

“We sought public comments on whether to sell or keep the property and for what uses,” said Bill Johnson, CEO of the TVA. “Our analysis of the property and its potential uses, and input from public officials, customers and Valley residents, indicate that offering the property for sale could better serve the public.”

The Bellefonte site consists of approximately 1,600 acres on a peninsula in the Tennessee River near Hollywood, Alabama. It has been in the TVA’s control for more than 40 years. In 1974, the TVA began building two nuclear units (Figure 1), but it halted the construction in 1988. There is substantial infrastructure on the site including the two partially constructed Babcock & Wilcox reactors, cooling towers, switchyards, office buildings, warehouses, a training center, parking lots, railroad spurs, and a helicopter landing pad.

1. Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.
The plant looks nearly complete from the exterior, but a lot of work would be needed on the inside to make the units operational. Courtesy: TVA

In its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan, the TVA determined that it would be unlikely to need new baseload resources, such as nuclear generation, in the next 20 years. Even so, the TVA anticipates bringing a new nuclear unit online as early as this month. Watts Bar Unit 2 is expected to reach initial criticality—the term used to describe a self-sustaining controlled fission chain reaction—in May and should begin commercial operation later this summer.

With the board’s vote, the TVA will now begin the process of getting the Bellefonte property ready for auction. The next step is to identify bidder terms. The TVA plans to provide at least 60 days for bidder’s to complete the qualification process, after which it will hold a public auction, if there are qualified bidders. Johnson said he hopes the site can be assessed and ready for sale by fall.

“As a federal agency, we have a very specific process we have to follow to dispose of surplus property. The first step was taken by the board yesterday,” Scott Brooks, TVA public relations specialist, told POWER. “We can’t speculate on any potential uses or bidders.”

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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