It’s looking less and less likely that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will ever finish construction as it was once envisioned for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.
POWER confirmed through a media spokesperson that the TVA has notified federal authorities that it is withdrawing its application for two combined construction permits and operating licenses for Units 3 and 4, which it filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2007. Additionally, the TVA announced on February 17 that it is seeking public input on whether to sell the 1,600-acre site located on Guntersville Reservoir near Hollywood, Ala.
History of Delays
The TVA’s original plan was to build four reactor units on the site (Figure 1). Construction began on Units 1 and 2 in September 1974 with an original price tag of $650 million, according to a study completed by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Unit 1 was scheduled to begin commercial operation in July 1977, with Unit 2 following in April 1978.
1. Bellefonte Nuclear Plant. Original plans envisioned four reactor units on the 1,600-acre site. Courtesy: TVA
But that was far from how things panned out. Inflation, schedule delays, higher interest costs, additional construction man-hours, and revised NRC guidelines and requirements forced the project way beyond its due date and way over budget. Construction was suspended at the site in 1988 after about $4.5 billion had already been spent on the project, according to some reports. The units were estimated to be 87% and 55% complete, respectively, at the time.
In 2011, the TVA board of directors decided it was time to move forward with construction of Unit 1 again. Some equipment from the unit had been scavenged or salvaged as a result of asset recovery activities, which left the unit roughly 55% complete at the time. It was estimated that Unit 1 could be finished for another $4.9 billion.
However, the unit was again placed on hold in early 2012 when the TVA said that it would not continue work on the Bellefonte unit until the initial fuel loading at Watts Bar Unit 2 was completed. Then in 2013, the TVA suspended construction work indefinitely after cost estimates to complete Unit 1 increased to between $7.4 billion and $8.7 billion. At that point, the TVA cut three-quarters of the staff and it has been maintaining the facility in a preservation status, spending minimal amounts on maintenance and security ever since.
For Sale: Unfinished Nuclear Power Plant
Now the TVA may be interested in finding a buyer for the site. There is no certainty that there will be any interest, but the property comes with some interesting assets. They include: two partially constructed Babcock & Wilcox pressurized light water reactors and associated facilities, office buildings, warehouses, a training center, parking lots, railroad spurs, and a helicopter landing pad.
“As we consider this decision, it is important that we hear from interested stakeholders, potential site developers and the general public,” said Bill Johnson, president and CEO of the TVA.
“The 2015 Integrated Resource Plan, completed with public input, indicates it may be two decades before additional large baseload generation is needed,” Johnson said. “TVA wants to know if there is an entity interested in investing and creating jobs at this location.”
A public comment period begins today and will run through March 18, 2016. Once the public notice period ends, management and the TVA board will review the comments, along with other pertinent information, to help decide whether to sell the property. If the TVA’s board of directors declares the site surplus, the TVA anticipates offering the property through a public auction process.
—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)