Monday, August 15, 2011

Suspense. Tension. Bellefonte!

house near bellefonte I’m not sure if it belittles the importance of the event to call it, well, suspenseful:

Later this month [this Friday, to be exact], the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority could take up a proposal to complete the Bellefonte nuclear power plant in northeast Alabama.

TVA administrators are conducting a campaign to gain public support for the project and nuclear energy in general despite a dangerous incident at a Japanese plant this year.

TVA had already put off making this decision once:

TVA staff says the most reliable and least costly option for future growth in electricity needs is nuclear power and completing the Bellefonte plant in Hollywood, Ala., for an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion. The board’s vote on the proposal, which had been expected this past spring, was put off after a nuclear fiasco in Japan.

“Dangerous incident,” “nuclear fiasco.” We may in for a long period of creative description-making for the accident at Fukushima. I’m not crazy about either of these,but points to reporters for mixing it up a bit.

With costs rising and more regulations anticipated for TVA’s aging coal-fired plants — the historic workhorse of electricity generation — the nation’s largest public power producer stands at a crossroads as the meeting approaches.

Oddly, the story doesn’t mention why aging coal plants might be facing rising costs and more regulation. Nuclear facilities are not exactly regulation free, after all. In any event, it’s clear that writer Anne Paine is feeling the suspense, too:

None of the board members contacted by The Tennessean last week was definite on how he or she would vote on Bellefonte.

Three members — [Barbara] Haskew; Mike Duncan of Inez, Ky.; and William Sansom of Knoxville — did not return telephone calls for comment. Those reached talked about keeping rates as low as possible for the9 million people served in parts of seven states through TVA’s distributors.

That actually speaks well to approving Bellefonte, but that’s what you do when you can’t know: you read teas leaves – parsing what people say for a hint.

There has been, as you might expect, some criticism from an environmental coalition called the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). Some groups put up good contentions that ought to be answered carefully, but SACE just cooked up a stew of issues that aren’t really issues.

SACE released a report, saying TVA should not go forward at Bellefonte, providing what they claimed seven major factors that say TVA's attempt is extremely costly and and dangerous.

Here’s a bit from SACE’s press release:

Efforts by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resume construction at the long-shuttered, nearly forty-year-old Bellefonte nuclear reactor Unit 1 in Jackson County, Alabama, are unlikely to be successful due to seven major problems, including water damage to the reactor site foundation, compromised radiation containment in the unfinished reactor, and a lack of records about what exactly went on when the critical systems in the unfinished plant were cannibalized while the project lay dormant.

Which makes it sound as though TVA intends to walk into the plant as-is and flip a switch.

[TVA President and CEO Tom] Kilgore said a completed Unit 1 at Bellefonte would essentially be a new unit, using the latest equipment and technology to meet the latest safety standards and regulations.

He also talks about the “water damage” – there isn’t any. Of course, if SACE cannot be sure of Bellefonte – as it presumably cannot – that provides a lot of license to promote what must be true or, to put it more specifically, what SACE feels must be true. And that’s being generous.

Unless the TVA board hangs onto its votes for awhile without revealing them – the vote itself is secret – we should know if TVA will be going ahead with Bellefonte this Friday.

Oh, the suspense.


If Bellefonte is approved, the plan currently is to bring it online in 2018, which means it will have taken 44 years from conception to completion. The project was officially suspended in 1988 due to falling energy costs, with reactor 1 about 88 percent complete. Reviving the project has percolated for awhile now and in 2008, TVA asked the NRC to reinstate the construction permits, which has happened. The recession depressed (recessed?) the demand for more electricity, so the original 4-reactor project is now one – well, one for now. Here are some up-to-date TVA talking points about Bellefonte.

On the road to Bellefonte – you didn’t really want another shot of a plant, did you? You can see a cooling tower over the trees on the left. It’ll be nice if they actually get to cool something.

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