Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reanimating a "Zombie Nuclear Reactor" in Hollywood, Alabama--TVA's Bellefonte 1

The TVA recently announced plans to revive it's half century old reactor the Bellefonte 1 to the tune of almost $9 billion dollars--$4 billion has already been invested and another $4-5 billion is required to get it up and running. Skeptics say the reactor is "too expensive and too antiquated, and it lies in an earthquake zone." 

They're right about all three. 

But it's moving forward anyway despite known problems with all of the TVA'S nuclear facilities.

Excerpt from a June 15, 2011 NY Times story on Bellefonte:
Thomas Kilgore, the authority’s president and chief executive, said finishing it now would make more sense later. “Why nuclear?” he said. “Once you get the unit built, you’ve got inflation locked out.”Mr. Beaumont, the industry analyst, said that “based on cost, I absolutely think you can say it’s crazy.” But that assessment might change over time, he allowed.
The Environmental Protection Agency could force additional coal-generated power plants to close as it polices greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the demand for cleaner sources of energy, he said. The price of natural gas will eventually rise, making nuclear energy more competitive, he added, and at some point, existing nuclear plants will wear out.
T.V.A. executives have another troublesome variable to deal with, unpredictable changes in demand, which is what they say caused them to shut down construction in 1988.
“I can’t forecast out 8 or 10 years,” Mr. Kilgore said, but “we just know when we get there, Bellefonte 1 is a good economic proposition."
The TVA has a long track record of problems with its nuclear facilities. Brown's Ferry is notorious for safety issues, and the Watts Bar 1 facility was shut down in 1985 after employees came forward with safety and operating concerns that kept the plant closed for eleven years. That eleven year down time has been described as a "lax period" where "proper construction procedures were not followed, and documentation was poorly maintained." During this same time of troubling ineffectiveness, construction of the Bellefonte site was completed.

In the years between then and now, it was scavenged for parts to other facilities to within a shadow of its former self. Tearing it down and starting over would make more prudent sense, but TVA has firmly demonstrated by their own actions they are not known for sense and prudence. Or safety.

Another one of TVA's facilities in Tennessee, Watts Bar, is scheduled to have a second reactor online by October 2012 and it too is swirled in controversy and questions.

In a meeting on June 20, 2011 in Athens, Tennessee between the NRC and TVA Watts Bar representatives, questions were raised "about the TVA's nuclear track record and the NRC's oversight" in addition to the safety of nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The NRC is still reviewing a backlog of 500 whistle-blowing complaints about the TVA's Watts Bar facility. Robert Haag, NRC construction chief reported that "the agency has reviewed and closed 79 of those allegations."

James Moorman, director of the NRC's Southeast division construction projects, is markedly more optimistic about allowing the TVA to expand Watts Bar than some in the audience:
From the mid-1970s when construction began at Watts Bar to Unit 1’s startup in 1996, whistle-blower allegations raised concerns about everything from quality control to fire protection. When work stopped on Unit 2, the whistle-blower allegations pertaining to that reactor were shelved by NRC.
“We think we’re on schedule with what we have [in that new look],” Moorman said after the meeting.
But several listeners at the meeting were full of questions and concerns.
Ann Harris, one of the whistle-blowers and former Watts Bar employees, took TVA and NRC officials to task for not checking what she said were far more than 500 allegations long ago.
“This is snake oil you’re spinning,” she told the officials.
Brian Paddock, an attorney working with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, asked NRC how the recent evaluations of failures at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant might affect the scheduled October 2012 Watts Bar startup.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” he said.
He also questioned whether NRC’s recent re-evaluations of seismic risks to the plant are being applied at Watts Bar.
NRC officials told him they would get back to him with answers.
Sometimes dead is better when it comes the TVA's archaic nuclear facilities--they continually exhibit a morbid pattern of pouring millions of federal dollars into antiquated ideas that one day we may all pay for in deadly consequences.

Stephen Smith writing for the Institute of Southern Studies made a convincing argument against "zombie reactor" resurrection in a 2009 article:
If TVA decides to go forward with Bellefonte despite serious questions about financial and safety issues, the plant would likely not be completed until 2020 or beyond. Given that initial construction began back in 1974 and a standard operating life is 40 years, the reactor at Bellefonte could be operating at a ripe old age of nearly 90. A potential NRC-granted 20-year license extension down the road could make for an almost 110-year-old operating reactor. If in 2080 someone asks whether anyone still uses nuclear reactor technology from the Nixon era, hopefully that will be a laughable question. Yet it is deadly serious.
Mr Smith concluded his article with the hope that the TVA would "make a better and safer decision" regarding the Bellafonte reactor. Sadly, his words and hope have fallen on the usual deaf ears of most quasi-governmental agencies like the TVA.

In our opinions, all that stands between us and disaster is the NRC, and so far they have signaled a frightening unwillingness to act in the best interests of the public with nuclear energy oversight. It's almost as if Fukushima was a fluke, an anomaly that gets obligatory lip service of 'we have learned from that disaster' but we are not really going to make any big changes.

That's flirting with disaster on epic levels.

Just how safe are the US nuclear plants anyway? 

According to a recent investigative report from the Associated Press "radioactive tritium has leaked from 3/4 of all US commercial nuclear plants into groundwater from corroded buried piping." The NRC continues to "extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation" despite the occurrence and severity of the leaks increasing.

Tritium leaks have also been documented at The Southern Company's (SOCO) nuclear plants in Georgia and Alabama: Vogtle (Ga.) & Farley (Ala.) SOCO's Farley plant requires massive amounts of water to keep their reactors cooled and they aren't going to allow a decrease in available water supplies without putting up some huge resistance. The long-standing water wars between Georgia and Alabama figures into nuclear and the utility plants of Alabama Power. This link sheds some light on what's driving the issue and it's not all about over-development-- it's mainly about "Power and Water Colliding

Governor Bentley, inheriting the water wars battle from the previous administration of Bob Riley, signaled his readiness earlier this year to put an end to the twenty-year fight.

Lastly, it is worth considering the role extreme changes in weather will have on our nuclear facilities. What's happening in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska right now might give us a big clue and another cautionary warning we would be wise to heed:

Bookmark and Share


  1. Somebody has been busy digging since the last article...get 'em Max!

  2. Industry spin: Aged reactors are the reliable workhorses of our industry.

    "The reactor is the industry's workhorse with a proven track record of safety and reliability for more than 40 years," the company said, noting there are over 32 such reactors operating worldwide. "There has never been a breach of a Mark 1 containment system."
    It was unclear how that statement reconciles with the events in Japan, where radiation is being detected outside a Mark 1 reactor, although at mostly low levels."

    If we're going to go nuclear there should be a serious overhaul of the system starting with the NRC.

  3. Once we run out of water then we'll realize how valuable it really is!

  4. In the wake of the AP report three US Senators are calling for an investigation into safety standards and NRC oversight.


    Let us hope it will be more than the lengthy window dressing too many investigations turn into.

    TVA appeal on code red status at Brown's Ferry has been rejected by the NRC.

  5. We have to stop this hamster cage run around of trading one form of dirty fuel, coal, for others, natural gas and nuclear.
    Not a one of us would use any room in our house for a waste receptacle except the one designated for that purpose. Why do we not use the same logic for our environment that sustains us?
    Germany and Switzerland are realizing the price to pay for error and unforeseen circumstance with nuclear energy is too risky. Why doesn't the US get it too?

  6. Lots of nuclear secrecy going on in S. Alabama's Houston County. Hire ex NRC people and keep things quiet.

  7. You don't back up anything you say with scientific proof because you don't understand what you are talking about. The majority of tritium leaks you mention are well below allowed limits for drinking water but they clean them up anyway. Check you local water report, there's radiation in your drinking water. The reactor lifetimes are based on neutron embrittlement of the pressure vessel, if you don't run the reactor you don't wear out the vessel. Also, the pressure vessel and the containment are the only old pieces that are going to go into the new reactor, meaning the only thing that they are going to reuse is the metal and concrete. Everything else in the plant will be brand new, old reactor design but new emergency systems and controls. Do you really believe the people that work and live around the reactors would purposely allow unsafe conditions? All nuclear workers can (and are encouraged) go straight to the NRC with any concerns and the NRC can and will easily shut down the reactors. REDUNDANCY.

  8. ANON--

    Why don't you identify yourself?

    Speaking of 'falsehoods':
    All nuclear workers can (and are encouraged) go straight to the NRC with any concerns and the NRC can and will easily shut down the reactors. REDUNDANCY.

    Come now, you must know that is far from true. Who's really being "redundant" and 'misleading' Anon?

    April 19, 2011
    NRC Inspector General Reports Whistleblower Reluctance

    From Corporate Whistleblower Blog:

    A recent report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Inspector General brought to light, among other thing, a general reticence among nuclear power plant operators to blow the whistle on substandard safety practices. Specifically, the NRC Audit Report indicated that nuclear plant operators fail, in the majority of instances, to self-report to the NRC instances of safety-related component failure that could have serious implications of the integrity of a nuclear power plant. Such self-reports are required by federal law.
    It appears that the reluctance of employees to blow the whistle stems in part from their fear of retaliation, as employees remain convinced that speaking out would endanger their livelihoods and professional standing.

    The links to published news stories in our article shows the fallacy of re-animating this reactor, but we believe you may be experiencing some difficulty with reading comprehension.

    Hope that clears up for you soon.

    Nice try. Thanks for playing.



IP tracking & BS detector is enabled.
Don't set it off.