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US: completion of construction of 1970's reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
LAKA Foundation

On August 18, the US Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the completion of construction of the Bellefonte Unit 1. To finance construction, the Watts Bar 2 reactor (also under construction) will be completed and sold, and then be leased back to TVA. Construction on Bellefonte would not begin until after fuel loading at Watts Bar 2 is complete (not before 2013). Currently TVA has a debt of 24 billion USdollars.

(732.) Laka Foundation - Construction of the two-unit Bellefonte nuclear plant began in 1974 (exactly the same year as Busher in Iran), but work was suspended in 1988 in response to declining demand. Unit 1 was the furthest along, considered about 90% complete when work halted in 1988. Today it is considered about 55% complete due to the transfer or sale of many components and the need to upgrade or replace others. Completion of the Bellefonte Unit 1 reactor is expected to cost another US$4.9 billion, which is in addition to the estimated US$1.9 billion in value already existing at the plant. Unit 1 should be in operation by 2020. TVA obtained its construction permit for the plant in the early '70s and that permit is still active today. But TVA must get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an operating permit before starting up the plant. A "future decision" on the potential completion of Bellefonte 2 will not come until at least mid-way through work on unit 1.

From 1992 to 2002, the TVA considered various proposals for Bellefonte, including completion as a combined-cycle natural gas plant, a coal gasification plant, a tritium production plant for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons program, or a nuclear plant partnered with a private investor. In 2009 the NRC granted the TVA’s request to reinstate Bellefonte’s original construction permits so the TVA could evaluate the engineering and economic feasibility of completing Units 1 and 2.

The TVA decided to complete construction of the Watts Bar 2 project in August 2007 to help meet its growing demand for power (expected completion costs US$2.5 billion). The 1,180-MW Unit 2 will be the first new reactor to achieve commercial operations in the USA since Watts Bar 1 was completed in 1996. According to the World Nuclear Association “reactor details page” of Watt Bar 2, construction started on January 12, 1972. Remember 1972? In that year , as part of US-president Nixon's re-election effort, a massive campaign of political spying and 'dirty tricks' was initiated against Democrats, leading to the Watergate break-in to plant bugs inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Later that year, in November, Nixon won the presidential elections; McGovern lost. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan and was recognized by the United Nations in 1972 and the German writer Heinrich Böll won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That long ago.

Well, if we are into history: When the Tennessee Valley Authority was established in 1933, at the height of the great depression, it rapidly became one of the controversial instruments of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Designed, in Roosevelt's own words, for the "reclamation of land and human beings", the creation of TVA was a unique federal attempt to attack the grinding poverty of an entire region "by developing and conserving" its natural resources.

In the nineteenseventees TVA had the countries' most ambitious nuclear power program: the construction of 17 reactors before mid 1980's. But already on August 25, 1982, the Board of Directors decided to cancel four units (Phipps Bend 1 & 2 and Hartsville B1 & B2) under construction and in the following 3 years four more units followed. Original start-up date of the Watts Bar reactors was 1977.

On December 12, 1994, TVA announced it would halt work on three of the last four nuclear power stations under construction in the United States: Bellefonte Units 1 and 2 and Watts Bar 2: leaving only Watts Bar 1 to be finished. (as said, it was the last reactor finished in the US –1996)

According to an editorial in the Dec. 13 edition International Herald Tribune  the decision "is the symbolic death notice for the current generation of reactors in the US". The article in the WISE Nuclear Monitor devoted to this ended with the warning: "Although the end of the first generation reactors is welcome news, folks should be reminded that the US industry is already seeking federal certification for the next generation". While history may repeat itself, it is not always obvious in which way…..

Thirty-nine years after the first start of construction, in early August 2011, TVA has announced that construction of the US$2.5 billion Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor is even behind the 2007 schedule and the project will not meet its sixty month timetable. The 1,180 MW Bar 2 nuclear reactor was expected (in 2007) to be operational sometime in late 2012, but the project is now expected to wrap up in early 2013 instead. The TVA’s Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum said that the project’s schedule is being revised as a result of construction delays as well as lost time due to licensing delays.

Kim Greene, TVA group president of strategy and external relations, said that the utility expects to raise up to US$2.5 billion on the sale of the "new" Watts Bar reactor, which would then be leased back to TVA. "There have been sale/lease-backs of nuclear units in the past, and I do believe the closer we are to completion of construction, the easier it will be [to sell the reactor]," she said. "At this point, we have indications from the market that there would be an appropriate amount of interest in the Watts Bar Unit 2 facility."

So, on August 18 the TVA Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the completion of construction of the Bellefonte Unit 1. But even with that approval, TVA officials say construction on the reactor would not resume for at least two years because of the planning and regulatory approval process that will still have to take place.

In fact, the board members amended the resolution to say that construction on Bellefonte would not begin until after the fuel loading at Watts Bar 2 is complete.  Which is projected to finish up by December of 2012.  After that, TVA would issue a 120-day notice of plans to begin construction at Bellefonte.

No zombies allowed…
TVA had a message for opponents of its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant at the Board of Directors meeting on August 18: No costumes. A month after zombie-costumed protesters paraded in Chattanooga to oppose TVA's plans to revive what they described as a "corpse of a power plant" in northeast Alabama, the nation's largest public utility installed a new ban on costumes at its board meeting on August 18. A TVA spokesman said the no-costume rule was intended to avoid any "disruption" at the meeting in Knoxville.

Despite the warning, several protestors turned up: one man was dressed as "corporate zombie," another as Santa Claus and yet another as Ben Franklin. Even as the protestors claimed a First Amendment right violation, security would not let them enter the meeting.


Sources:, 24 August 2011 /, 24 August 2011 / www., 16 August 2011 /, 9 August 2011 / WNA Reactor Details / WISE News Communique 424, 19 December 1994 / Int. Herald Tribune, 18 August 1985 / Atomic Energy Clearing House, 6 September 1982 / Nature, 26 August 1976
Contact: NIRS



Belleville-1Watts Bar 2Laka