The government-run Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted Thursday to sell off the Bellefonte nuclear power plant in Alabama for about $36.4 million — after the agency invested $6 billion in the project that produced no electricity.
“Our analysis of the property and its potential uses, and input from public officials, customers and Valley residents, indicate that offering the property for sale could better serve the public,” Bill Johnson, the TVA’s president, told the Times Free Press.
TVA abandoned the Bellefonte reactors due to strict regulations, political issues and competition from natural gas, which lowered the price of electricity. Despite the enormous investment of money and time, the TVA does not believe the reactor could be profitably operated, as electricity demand in Alabama isn’t growing fast enough to require the plant. If the reactors had been completed, they would have produced nearly 1,256 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 709,000 homes.
For the last 40 years, the TVA has tried to build two new nuclear reactors at Bellefonte, even completing the majority of the work on both of them. The agency invested $6 billion in the site before construction was shut down. The new property appraisal estimates the site and its facilities will sell for a mere $36.4 million.
Other nuclear reactors around America have suffered similar fates. Vermont and Wisconsin both lost nuclear plants due to competition from cheap natural gas and the San Onofre reactor in California was shut down due to safety concerns, as was the Crystal River reactor in Florida. The world’s largest nuclear plant operator, Électricité de France, withdrew from a joint venture in 2013 due to falling power prices after it had invested billions. If the venture had gone through, it would have created three new American nuclear plants.
Much of nuclear power’s political issues were due to opposition from Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who prevented the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site from opening, leaving nuclear plants without a good place to store spent fuel. Reid also created legal liabilities for the federal government that could exceed $50 billion.
The TVA is about to start the first new American nuclear reactor, Watts Bar Unit 2, in 20 years next month. Construction on this reactor began 43 years ago, but work stopped in 1985 — after more than $1 billion had already been spent — due to a construction scandal. The TVA revived the project in 2007, at a time when nuclear power seemed poised to make a comeback.
Nuclear power accounted for 20 percent of America’s electricity in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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