Another status upgrade for Bellefonte reactors

18 January 2010

Two partly built reactors at the Bellefonte site in Alabama have had their status upgraded from 'terminated' to 'deferred' by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Bellefonte 1 and 2 (Image: TVA)
The NRC's decision to place the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Bellefonte units 1 and 2 in 'deferred' status follows on from a unique 2009 decision to reinstate the construction licences of the cancelled plant, putting it into the 'terminated' category. The latest status change was described by NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation director Eric Leeds as "just one step in the long list of actions TVA must complete before they resume construction at Bellefonte."

The NRC licensed the construction of the two Babcock and Wilcox 1213 MWe pressurized water reactors (PWRs) at the Alabama site in 1974, but TVA halted work in the mid-1980s because of changes in forecast demand growth. In 1988, when TVA requested NRC classify the units as deferred, units 1 and 2 were approximately 88% and 58% complete respectively. The plant remained deferred until 2006, when TVA formally cancelled the units and asked NRC to withdraw the construction permits; the regulator duly did so. This step cleared the way for TVA to look into other potential uses for the site.

In 2005 TVA's site was selected by the NuStart Energy Development consortium as a potential location for two new Westinghouse AP1000 units, referred to as Bellefonte 3 and 4. TVA filed an application for a combined construction and operating licence (COL) for the units with NRC in October 2007.

By August 2008, changes in the economics of power generation and the possibility of constraints on the availability and supply of components needed for new generation development prompted TVA to request the reinstatement of the construction permits for Bellefonte 1 and 2. In a unique move, NRC formally reinstated the permits in March 2009. The reinstated permits were initially classified as 'terminated'. TVA then requested a change to 'deferred' status to clear the way for possible future construction. This the NRC has now granted, after a review of additional information provided by the TVA and an inspection of the site.

The reinstated construction licences for Bellefonte units 1 and 2 are due to expire in 2011 and 2014 respectively. NRC notes that TVA has not said if it will seek to extend the permits, nor when it might seek to restart construction activities, but has said it will give the regulator 120 days' advance notice of any construction work.

Four, three, two, one?

TVA now has construction licences for the first two units and has applied for licences for two more, but in 2009 the company announced that it would be looking into building just one unit at the site. The company says its analysis of future power demands has has identified the need for approximately 2000 MWe of additional baseload capacity in the 2018-2020 time frame.

In November 2009, TVA released a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) evaluating the potential environmental effects of two construction options - either completing one of the existing partly built units or building a new reactor - and a third alternative of taking no further action. The draft SEIS was open for public comments until the end of 2009, and the final version is scheduled for completion early this year.

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News