Feds seek public comment on transfer of construction permits for Bellefonte Nuclear Plant

Two forms of energy generation align across time as the ruins of an old chimney sit near the Bellefonte plant.

JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. – The public will have a chance to weigh in on actions that would make a Chattanooga developer the first individual in the world to own a commercial nuclear plant.

On Nov. 21, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission published in the Federal Register a notice of opportunity to intervene in a hearing regarding an application to transfer construction permits for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s unfinished Bellefonte reactors in Hollywood near Scottsboro.

The move would transfer the construction license from the Tennessee Valley Authority to Nuclear Development LLC, a group owned by Chattanooga-based developer Franklin Haney. Nuclear Development submitted the permit transfer application last November.

Following approval of the proposed direct transfer of control of the license, Nuclear Development, LLC would acquire ownership of the facility, complete construction and be responsible for the operation and maintenance of Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, Units 1 and 2.

Petitions to intervene in a hearing must be filed by Dec. 23, by anyone whose interest may be affected by the proposed transfer and who would like to participate as a party in the proceeding. The permits are CPPR-122 and CPPR-123.

Construction began nearly a half-century ago, but the reactors were put in a deferred status in 1988 – after investing more than $5 billion – after TVA determined the power from Bellefonte wouldn’t be needed because of a slowdown in the growth of power consumption. TVA now forecasts that its future demand will be steady, or perhaps even declining, negating the need for more baseload power like what Bellefonte would generate.

At one point, TVA estimated the Unit 1 reactor was about 90 percent complete and the other reactor was about 50 percent finished. But new digital standards have forced upgrades for new nuclear plants. TVA briefly considered the Bellefonte plant for the next generation of Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, but scrapped those plans as well.

In January, a federal judge turned down a request for an expedited hearing on a challenge to a decision by TVA not to sell the unfinished plant to Haney, who claimed in a lawsuit filed a year ago that TVA improperly canceled the sale. Haney was the top bidder two years ago at an auction for the 1,300-acre plant site with a $111 million purchase offer. He has already put up at least $22 million for the property, according to media reports.

Haney, a former Chattanooga-based real estate developer who made a fortune building and leasing government office buildings, roads and other facilities, told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press that he expected to finish the reactors in five to six years once construction resumes. He contends he can generate power potentially cheaper than TVA.

Anti-nuclear groups have questioned whether a plant like Bellefonte that has been under construction since 1975, mothballed and even partially dismantled could still be finished. The NRC staff has reviewed the application to ensure that Haney could adequately comply with the regulatory requirements for building and maintaining a nuclear plant.

As a private owner, Haney could qualify for production tax credits potentially worth more than $2 billion, which TVA could not receive as a government entity.

The NRC’s hearing process makes it possible for the public to get a full and fair hearing on civilian nuclear matters. Administrative judges from the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) generally conduct these hearings.

To participate in NRC hearings, members of the public must explain the nature of their interest in the proposed NRC licensing or enforcement action and set forth the reasons and bases for their concerns.

Generally, hearings are sought by those who reside or work near an affected nuclear facility and who believe that a proposed action raises environmental or safety questions. Participants in NRC hearings have included individuals, citizen groups, private businesses and governmental bodies.

More information on the hearing process is available on the NRC website, https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/adjudicatory/hearing-pro.html.

Comments can also be emailed to Hearing.Docket@nrc.gov, or sent by regular mail to Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN-7-A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Program Management, Announcements and Editing Staff.

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