Bellefonte Nuclear Plant Purchase Welcome News

In past years, PACE has continued to follow developments at Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, a facility originally owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The plant’s construction was never completed, leaving  a number of options for the utility’s board to consider.

In November, TVA announced that a Washington, D.C.-based company firm, Nuclear Development, had purchased the incomplete facility in northeast Alabama for $111 million. This was welcome news for northeast Alabama, as the purchase will breathe new life into the plant.

According to TVA, Nuclear Development plans to invest an additional $13 billion to bring the plant’s two partially completed reactors online. This will create 4,000 temporary construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs in the process. The plants are expected to be finished by 2028.

The plant, located in Jackson County, AL, is currently approximately 55% complete, with TVA’s construction on the project discontinued for good in 2014. TVA’s board of directors deemed Bellefonte to be a surplus property last year and listed it for auction. Preliminary bidding then began in September.

One of the considerations that led to Bellefonte’s purchase by Nuclear Development is that power demand in the region is not projected to rise sharply in the immediate future, providing adequate time for the plant’s completion should the permitting process not  move swiftly. The plant already has Nuclear Regulatory Commission construction licenses.

Nuclear Development’s proposal estimated 8,000 to 10,000 direct and indirect construction jobs would be required during peak construction to complete the project.

“The positive ongoing economic impact to the surrounding region will exceed $1 billion per year,” the company’s proposal stated.

Right now, 39 nuclear plants are currently operating across he Southeast, most of which are expected to operate well into the second half of this century. The most recent of those plants was TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 2, which was completed in 2016. There are currently four more nuclear reactors under construction, two each in South Carolina and Georgia, that are expected to be online by 2020.

Nuclear growth in the Southeastern United States contrasts greatly with nuclear policy in Germany, which is currently planning to phase out all of its nuclear capacity by 2022. Closing the country’s nuclear plants and its increased reliance on volatile renewable energy is expected to cause power prices to rise sharply. The closure of nuclear plants also causes uncertainty for Germany’s power grid since the country has pledged to cut coal-fired power as part of its energy transition.

In that context, it is welcome news that Northeast Alabama continues to recognize the value of low cost, emission free, and reliable nuclear power. Nuclear Development, as well as all of those who contributed to the plant’s purchase and rebirth, are to be commended for their vision of maintaining nuclear power as a cornerstone of the region’s energy portfolio.