Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA's) proposed expansion of its nuclear power plant fleet is likely to get the backing of its board of directors after four nominees to the board expressed support for nuclear energy during a US Senate confirmation hearing.
TVA was set up by the US Congress in 1933, primarily to reduce flood damage, improve navigation on the Tennessee River, provide electric power, and promote "agricultural and industrial development" in the region. Today, TVA is a federal corporation and the country's largest public power company, supplying the electricity needs of about nine million people. It provides wholesale power to 156 municipal and cooperative power distributors, and directly serves 56 large industries and government installations in the Tennessee Valley.
Some 30% of TVA's power supply currently comes from its three nuclear plants: Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar. Together, the six operating reactors at the plants generate more than 6900 MWe.
TVA has already completed four reactor projects previously put on hold. Operation of three units at Browns Ferry was halted in 1985, with units 2 and 3 eventually brought back into service in 1991 and 1995. Unit 1 at the site joined them online in May 2007. Construction of Watts Bar 1 and 2 was suspended and restarted by TVA. Unit 1 was evevtually finished off and commissioned in 1996, while a project to bring Watts Bar 2 to service is currently underway. It is expected to be completed by 2013, adding 1180 MWe to the TVA power system.
In addition, TVA began building two 1263 MWe pressurized water reactors at Bellefonte in 1974, but by 1988 the project was running badly late and, due to lower electricity demand than previously forecast, TVA decided to defer construction. At that time, Unit 1 was 90% complete; unit 2 about 58%. The current estimate of completion percentage is closer to 50% due to some equipment removal and material salvaging. The company has still to decide whether to complete the reactors. In 2005, the Bellefonte site was selected by the NuStart Energy consortium for the development of the reference combined construction and operating licence (COL) for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design. However, TVA says that no decision to build any new generating capacity at the Bellefonte site has yet been made.
Nominees back nuclear
The nine-member TVA board sets policy and strategy for the company. The members are nominated by the President of the USA and confirmed by the US Senate to serve five-year terms. The board meets at least four times per year.
The US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) met on 9 February to hear the nominations of four individuals to be members of the TVA board. During the hearing, each of the nominees gave a statement and was questioned by the committee members about their suitability for the role. Each nominee said that they backed TVA's use of nuclear energy.
Marilyn Brown, an energy professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the hearing, "I am confident that a variety of practical solutions are available to manage TVA's growing demand while ensuring reasonable prices, reliable service, responsible environmental practices and economic growth." She added, "I am pro-nuclear and I do think it needs to be part of the solution."
Barbara Haskew, a Middle Tennessee State University professor and former TVA manager, said, "As an economist and a citizen, I am focused on the opportunities and challenges TVA faces as it addresses important questions about power production and use, the increased protection of the environment and the exciting potential of new technologies." She added, "To support economic growth, I think we have to have low-cost power, and that additional power may have to be through nuclear."
Neil McBride, an attorney from Oak Ridge, told the committee, "In the short run, additional generation needs to come almost surely from new nuclear."
William Sansom, a former TVA chairman, has been nominated for a second term on the board. He told the Senate committee, "TVA is working to have 50% of its generation come from clean energy sources by 2020. That's why TVA has taken a national leadership role in nuclear power, and I was pleased to be part of TVA's decision to complete unit 2 at the Watts Bar nuclear plant." He added, "We've got some old dirty coal plants and, even if we were to miss the call for increased demand, I think nuclear must be part of our solution."
Senator Barbara Boxer, chair the EPW committee, commented: "The Tennessee Valley Authority is a critical piece of our nation's energy policy. In 1933, it was an ambitious, unprecedented and successful government effort to improve a deeply impoverished area. Its mandate is to be a national leader in technological innovation, low-cost power, and environmental stewardship."