FRANKFORT—Nuclear power will be vital to affordable electricity generation in states served by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the near future, a nuclear operations official with the TVA told state officials Nov. 16.
TVA Nuclear Operations Support vice president Mike Lorek told the Kentucky Special Subcommittee on Energy that the agency expects to spend around $10 per megawatt hour to produce nuclear power by 2019-2020. Coal is expected to be the next most economic generation source at $25 to $40 per megawatt hour, he said, with combined cycle natural gas and conventional gas turbines at the higher end of the cost spectrum at $40 to $50 and $60 to $140 per megawatt hour, respectively.
“You can see that in 2020, the dispatch costs of nuclear are way below any other source of generation, and that’s one reason we believe it’s going to be a vital part of our energy mix going forward,” Lorek said.
The TVA is a corporation owned by the U.S. government that provides electricity for approximately nine million people in seven states in the southeastern U.S., including portions of Kentucky. Its nuclear plants add more than 6,600 megawatts of electricity to the nation’s power grid.
On average nationally, nuclear was the second cheapest power produced in 2010 (behind hydroelectric) at less than two cents per kilowatt hour, followed by coal at three cents per kilowatt hour and natural gas at nearly five cents per kilowatt hour, Lorek said.
Although many people remain concerned about nuclear plant safety because of incidents like the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Lorek said safety is a priority for the nuclear power industry. “We have one of the best industrial safety records of any industry in the United States,” Lorek said, adding that plant evaluations and training through accredited programs keep industry standards high.
Some lawmakers questioned why Kentucky—a coal state which does not allow nuclear power generation within its borders currently—would want to change its policy on nuclear. Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, asked Lorek pointedly, “Why should a coal state want nuclear power plants to compete with Kentucky coal and reduce the current energy mix…?”
Riner also expressed concerns about the industry’s ability to deal with air attacks from U.S. enemies, citing an earlier comment by Lorek “we currently don’t have a strategy in place for trying to prevent that from happening.” That was Lorek’s response to an earlier question by subcommittee co-chair Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard. Lorek said a nuclear plant is a difficult target to hit and, based on a study by the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), nuclear plants are designed to withstand the impact of being struck by an airplane.
He added that his industry has the emergency response capability to mitigate any impact, if something like that were to happen.
“I’m a pilot myself, and it looks like most of your profile is pretty low, but the most obvious is the cooling towers,” Smith told Lorek, who said TVA’s cooling towers aren’t used for safety cooling. “If the plant is shut down and relying on safety systems to keep the core cool, we don’t have to have them,” he said. He added later that such an attack would not result in the release of radioactive material.
As far as prevention of such attacks, Lorek said “we all rely on the federal government to prevent those things from happening,” Riner said he was not reassured.
“Knowing that right now, Iran purchases sophisticated technology and weapons systems from Russia and China, and … what we are dealing with in the Middle East… It makes no sense whatsoever to me for Kentucky to bring nuclear power in here so that we can be targeted for something that we can’t deal with,” Riner said.
The TVA currently has three nuclear plant operation sites: three units at Browns Ferry in Alabama; two units at Sequoyah in Tennessee; and one unit at Watts Bar in Tennessee. A second unit is now under construction at Watts Bar (which is expected to be operational by Dec. 2015) with another plant, called Bellefonte, in the engineering phase in Alabama.