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Last updated 4:39PM ET
March 8, 2021
TVA Will Apply For Permission To Build New Reactor
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - For the first time in three decades, the Tennessee Valley Authority will seek a license to build a new nuclear power plant, the board of the nation's largest public utility decided Thursday.

With no dissenting votes, the nine-member board gave the go-ahead to apply for an NRC license, putting TVA up front in a predicted national run on Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses in the next three years.

The license would allow TVA to both build and operate a two-reactor plant at its rural Bellefonte site on the Tennessee River in northeastern Alabama.

TVA will apply for the license as a partner in a consortium of power companies and reactor manufacturers called NuStart Energy Development LLC. The consortium will split the projected $50 million initial design cost with the U.S. Department of Energy.

TVA has six reactors and provides wholesale electricity through 158 distributors to about 8.7 million consumers and directly to several dozen large manufacturers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Ashok Bhatnager, TVA's senior vice president for nuclear power, said TVA's share of the initial cost would be about $8 million over four years. He said the NRC license process would take about 42 months.

Before the vote, an environmentalist who opposes TVA adding a nuclear plant in the rural community between Huntsville and Chattanooga, Tenn., said in a telephone interview that the nation's largest utility may be suffering from "amnesia."

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said TVA has acted too hastily and as a federal utility has made the decision without any public input. Smith, who addressed the board after their vote, said he has both public safety and cost concerns.

"TVA also needs to be looking at renewable energy investments and we think TVA needs to be looking at coal gasification," Smith said in the interview. "If we can gasify coal, that is a technology that should be developed."

TVA spokesman John Moulton said the NRC will conduct public meetings as part of the review process.

"At the end of that period, if the NRC approves the license, TVA would make a decision on whether we will build the plant," Moulton said.

He said TVA's most recent application to build a nuclear plant was in the mid-1970s.

An NRC official has predicted that nationwide the regulatory agency will get new combined construction and operating license applications for as many as 29 reactors at 20 sites, most in the South, over the next three years.

On Monday, power producer NRG Energy Inc. submitted the first application in a streamlined license process for two new reactor units at its Bay City, Texas facility, the first in the U.S. since before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

"A number of the utilities are trying to get out there as quickly as possible," Smith said. "There is no analysis that shows they are needed."

The TVA board in August voted to commit more than $2.5 billion to complete a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant at Spring City, about 110 miles north of the Bellefonte site. TVA still has a construction license for Watts Bar, the most recent new nuclear plant to come on line in the United States when it fired up one of its two planned reactors in 1996.

TVA gets 64 percent of its power from coal, 29 percent from nuclear, 6 percent from hydroelectric and 1 percent from natural gas and diesel. Wind, solar and methane renewable energy programs contribute less than 1 percent.

If Watts Bar 2 and Bellefonte are built, TVA's nuclear generation could approach 40 percent.

TVA recently restarted a reactor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Ala., also mothballed since 1985, following a $1.8 billion, five-year renovation.

"It is a shortsighted approach" that benefits a few major corporations, Smith said.

Not everyone agrees. The nuclear plant construction project would create up to 3,000 jobs.

"We're elated," Jackson County Commission Chairman James Tidmore said in a telephone interview.

"They (workers) are going to have to have a place to stay, a place to eat and hopefully some entertainment," Tidmore said.

Tidmore said a 2 percent sales tax "goes exclusively to the school systems" in the 55,000-resident county.

Tidmore said he has heard "very little" comment about fear of living close to a nuclear plant.

"I don't think that exists in Jackson County," he said.


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