The incomplete Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Alabama, USA has been officially 'terminated' so that it can later become 'deferred' in a unique regulatory maneuver.
The change in status, signed off yesterday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is a partial acceptance of a request by plant owner Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which wants to study the possibility of completing the plant.
The company's licence to build two reactors at the site had previously been terminated in September 2006, after it decided not to complete construction. But in August 2008 TVA approached the NRC again and asked to have the license reinstated to the 'deferred' status to allow it to again seriously study the possibility of completion. Some $10 million was allocated to the studies in mid-2008.
The NRC has indeed reinstated the license, but said that it must be in the 'terminated' status first of all. This is because the deferred status requires certain levels of
TVA has already completed four mothballed reactors.
Construction work on three units at Browns Ferry was halted in 1985, with units 2 and 3 eventually brought into service in 1991 and 1995. Unit 1 at the site joined them online in May 2007.
Watts Bar 1 and 2 were also cancelled by TVA in 1985. Unit 1 was finished off and commissioned in 1996, while a project to bring the 60%-complete Watts Bar 2 to service is underway currently. Bechtel is leading the engineering, procurement and construction of its completion. Westinghouse is also involved, with a $200 million upgrade and support contract. It start up in 2013.
maintenance to have been carried out on paperwork and plant components and TVA's efforts had not met the strict criteria.
The licence for Bellefonte will remain 'terminated' until TVA re-establishes the physical conditions and records quality of the units to the NRC's satisfaction. Then the commission will consider moving the license back to 'deferred' status.
NRC chair Dale Klein said: "the commission policy statement on deferred plants is clear and demanding with respect to the condition of the facilities and the quality of plant records. The Bellefonte reactors simply do not meet that threshold right now."
An NRC statement said that it did consider there to be "sufficient reason to reinstate the construction permits" and that "a more conservative sequential approach will ensure the safety of doing so."
TVA began building two 1263 pressurized water reactors at Bellefonte in 1974, but by 1988 the project was running badly late and TVA decided to defer construction. Unit 1 is 90% complete; unit 2 about 58%.
Senior TVA staff have previously explained that having a deferred status for Bellefonte 1 and 2 would "help TVA clarify the regulatory requirements and continue to evaluate the feasibility of using units 1 and 2."
However, two brand-new reactors are still planned for the site: TVA put the site forward as a contribution to the NuStart consortium and two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors could be build there during the next decade. A combined construction and operating license was submitted for those in October 2007.