About This Video
Today the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Fairewinds Associates issued a report to the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding numerous concerns with the Bellefonte Unit 1 nuclear project. First designed with slide rules back in 1968, Bellefonte Unit 1 is America's oldest nuclear power plant that has yet to generate any electricity. TVA began construction in 1974, mothballed the plant in 1988, and cannibalized the plant for scrap metal between 2006 and 2008. Alarmingly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently allowed construction of Bellefonte Unit 1 by TVA to start again with its 1968 design and its 40-year old weakened foundation and containment. In the video and in its report, Fairewinds identifies seven areas of substantial risk for TVA if it continues to construct this aged facility.
Arnie Gundersen: Hi, I'm Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds Associates.
I was hired by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to write a report to the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors concerning a power plant they are planning to construct in Alabama. I have some really serious concerns about the power plant and if it can ever be constructed, let alone operated, that I would like to share with you today.
This plant was designed in 1968, that is at the height of the Vietnam War. Engineers used slide rules back then; I know, I was one of them. It was authorized to begin construction in 1974 and between 1974 and 1988, in fits and starts, the Tennessee Valley Authority began to build it. It was 80% complete in 1988 and Tennessee Valley Authority decided to put it in mothballs.
What that means in a nuclear plant is that it is put in a protective environment so that rodents do not eat the wires, and so that gasses are maintained to prevent rust, and also, equally important, that the paperwork, the quality of the plant is assured.
In 2005, Tennessee Valley Authority said they did not want to do that anymore, they wanted to destroy this plant, cannibalize it, sell it for scrap and move on.
They went to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said sure that's OK. About two years later in 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority had a change of heart. And they said, we made a mistake; we really should be attempting to build this plant and they went to the NRC.
Incredibly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said, sure no problem you can construct it again, even though you have cannibalized it for the last two years.
This month in August, Tennessee Valley Authority is going to make the decision if they can build this plant. If they do, it will go on line in about 2018. That is 50 years from the time it was initially designed. The plant will be 50 years old before it begins to generate one electron. If it runs for 60 years beyond that, as most nuclear power plants are proposed to do, it will be 110 years old at the time it will be shut down. I think there are some grave concerns that the Tennessee Valley Authority's board of directors needs to look at. I have identified 7 of them in the report that I have presented today. I would like to share those 7 ideas with you in this short video.
The first thing I have looked at was this unique design of the Bellafonte unit. It was built by a company called Babcock and Wilcox. Babcock and Wilcox built 8 nuclear reactors worldwide. There are 440 nuclear plants, so 8 divided by 440 means that only 2% of all the power plants in the world are of a design like being proposed for Bellafonte.
But it is even more unique than that. The existing 8 Babcock and Wilcox reactors are all what is called a 177 design; it is smaller. This is called the 205 design. It is bigger. This will be the only plant of that design in the entire world. And, oh by the way, the Babcock and Wilcox design is the design that was constructed and operated at Three Mile Island.
The second issue is ground water. When this plant was being built in the 1970's, they discovered there was an awful lot of ground water. And anybody who has every put concrete in the ground knows that water sucks out the calcium from concrete and makes it weak. At Bellefonte, they put in pumps. Sump pumps continually pull that water out of the ground and keep the foundation strong. In 2005, when the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to cancel this plant and cannibalize it, they turned the sump pumps off. So for a period of years, ground water has been in contact with that foundation and has weakened the foundation.
It is an impossible area to evaluate because you cannot dig underneath a nuclear plant to see how bad the ground water has occurred. But ground water has been eating away at the foundation of that plant because Tennessee Valley Authority made the decision to turn the pumps off.
The third area is quality assurance records. A nuclear power plant is only as good as the paperwork that supports whether or not the welds are any good, whether or not the components are any good, whether or not they can be traced to something that is built by a quality assurance vendor.
In 2005, that entire system was destroyed. The quality assurance staff was laid off.
The records were left in disarray. Without records, the quality assured nuclear plant does not exist. Now that may sound like a small thing, but in fact, that is what makes a nuclear plant, a nuclear plant.
It is a little bit like having an AKC dog. You have paperwork to prove that it is an AKC dog. But what if you let your AKC dog loose in the dog park for 6 hours? Could you be sure that the puppies are really AKC? The answer is no. Similarly, when Bellefonte lost control of it's records, it is very, very difficult to go back and determine what is, and what is not, a quality assured piece of material.
The fourth area is that the Bellefonte plant was cannibalized. Demolition crews were allowed in, in 2006 and 2007, to rip out major components, nuclear pipe, nuclear valves, and to cut the nuclear steam generators in order to sell the copper on the scrap market.
Tennessee Valley Authority recognized after about 2009, that they had a problem. They filed what is called an LER, License Event Report, that said they have lost control of the configuration. That means that they have no idea what is in that power plant anymore. It is a little bit like the book that goes with an airplane. Every airplane has a book and in that book is every single change to that airplane. When Tennessee Valley Authority decided to cannibalize the plant, they threw the book out. And now, as they are looking back and trying to determine exactly what is in that power plant, they have discovered they cannot. This is a serious problem.
Construction crews have been ripping the plant apart for years. Controls in the environment, mice eating the pipes, eating the wires, causing electrical short circuits, the wrong material inside the containment, all of these problems have occurred as a result of the unit being cannibalized.
The fifth area of concern is the containment vessel itself. It looks substantial from the outside, but in fact, the steel tendons that hold it together have begun to rot. Workers were inside the plant and they heard what they thought was a shotgun. It turned out that it was a steel tendon snapping. As they evaluated that, they determined that other steel tendons had things called sulfites on them and others had water, which was causing rust.
Now this containment at Bellefonte is really similar to the containment at Crystal River. We have talked about Crystal River before. A 60 foot long by 20 foot wide crack has developed in the Crystal River containment. It is possible that when they try to fix the Bellefonte containment, they try to retighten it a result of this exploded tendon, that it too, could develop a 60 foot long crack, just like at Crystal River.
The Crystal River reactors will be shut down for 5 years to correct that crack and it won't be til 2014 til we know we have got it right. So to move forward on Bellefonte now, is a grave risk, financial risk, to Tennessee Valley Authority because they won't know for sure if that containment can be fixed until Crystal River gets it right and that is not going to be at least until 2014.
The sixth area is that there are historical precedents of people trying to start up a nuclear power plant and failing. And Tennessee Valley Authority does not seem to be paying attention to the fact that history is not on their side. The first reactor is Zimmer. Zimmer was built in Ohio, was 98% complete when the utility decided the paperwork, the quality assurance records to make sure that the welds were really nuclear grade welds, were not adequate. The plant was mothballed and then destroyed and turned into a coal plant.
The other plant was Washington Public Power Unit 1. That is identical to the Bellefonte Unit. About 8 years ago, the Board of Directors at Washington Public Power faced the same decision that Bellefonte did. And they said, whoa, this is way too risky. As a matter of fact, it was an easier decision to make for the Washington Public Power District because that plant had never been cannibalized. So Washington Public Power and Zimmer threw in the towel because of quality problems in trying to start up a nuclear plant that was long delayed.
Bellefonte has been delayed even longer. It will be 50 years old before it ever goes on line. And yet, the Board of Directors at Tennessee Valley Authority is being told by management that it is a prudent expenditure to move forward on the design. I do not think so.
The final point I made to the Board of Directors at the Tennessee Valley Authority is that 5 nuclear accidents have occurred after this plant got it's construction permit in 1974. There are lots of lessons that have to be learned and the lessons from Fukushima will not be learned immediately. They will be 4 or 5 or 6 years in the making. Containment issues at Fukushima though, should be known to everybody. Three out of three of the containments have blown up. But yet, the Bellefonte containment has problems already. Tendons have been known to explode. The reactor very similar to it at Crystal River has a crack in it. How can we move forward on the Bellefonte reactors until we have completely learned the lessons from Fukushima?
To sum up the report, this plant was built by men and women with slide rules in 1968. The first dirt was moved in 1974. It was mothballed in 1988. It was cannibalized in 2006. And yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority think it would be a good idea to put it back together and operate it beginning in 2018.
It will be 50 years old if it can be constructed on the schedule that Tennessee Valley Authority claims. Then Tennessee Valley Authority proposes to run it for another 60 years. It will be 110 years old, the oldest plant in the world by a long shot, if this plant is allowed to go forward.
I recommend to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Board of Directors that they have another look at this. I think there are too many risks, and too many schedule delays, cost overruns and the likelihood of serious operating problems in the future if they continue to build the Bellefonte plant.
The full report I have written is on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's website.
Thank you very much.