Taxpayer-Funded Nuclear Power Plant On Sale For A $4.6 Billion Loss

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A government-run utility began selling its Alabama nuclear power plant for $36.4 million Monday, after spending more than $5 billion on it over the last four decades.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) already completed most of the work needed to finish two new nuclear reactors in Bellefonte, Alabama, but now the utility has put the reactors up for sale after investing more than $5 billion in the site. The plant’s reactors never generated a single watt of electricity.

TVA abandoned the Bellefonte reactors due to strict regulations and competition from natural gas, which lowered the price of electricity. TVA doesn’t think the reactors can be profitably operated since electricity demand in Alabama isn’t growing fast enough to require the plant. Had the reactors been completed, they would have produced enough electricity to power 709,000 homes.

At least one company has publicly expressed interest in purchasing the site. Whoever buys the plant will get two unfinished nuclear reactors, electrical transmission lines, office buildings, eight miles of roads, and a 1,000-space parking lot and more. A property appraisal estimated that the site and its facilities were worth for a mere $36.4 million, meaning the agency lost more than 99 percent of its investment.

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.

TVA began operating America’s first new nuclear reactor in 20 years last month.  Construction on this reactor, dubbed Watts Bar Unit 2, 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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