TVA cuts back Alabama nukes due to summer heat

By The Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.— When the Tennessee River sweats, it’s bad news for Tennessee Valley Authority ratepayers.

With the river at 90 degrees in north Alabama, the utility Wednesday had to reduce a third reactor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant to 50 percent power.

TVA nuclear spokesman Ray Golden told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that when the water reaches 90 degrees, TVA can’t add more heat.

Heat last summer forced TVA to spend $50 million for replacement power. The extra expense added between 50 cents and $1 to most electric bills several months later.

A new $80 million cooling tower at the Browns Ferry plant near Athens, Ala., was expected to be operating by now.

“It was delayed because of the impact of the tornadoes, and some spring storms and some heavy rains,” Golden said. “It’s probably about 98 percent complete, and we hope it will be in service in the next one to two months.”

So far, the summer heat has not had the same impact at Sequoyah or Watts Bar in East Tennessee but state environmental officials said TVA monitors river temperatures upstream and downstream of both plants and reports findings to the state. If utility engineers see they can’t bring the temperature to 86.9 degrees, they must slow or stop the plant’s power production, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Browns Ferry, which began reducing power on Sunday, historically has had more difficulty meeting the cooling standard than TVA’s other nuclear plants, due to differences in the plants, the river and terrain near them, according to Golden and Calabrese-Benton.

“At Browns Ferry, the river is shallow and wide. The channels are deeper at Watts Bar and Sequoyah,” Golden said. “Flow affects how warm the river gets.”

Calabrese-Benton said the TVA plants in Tennessee have an advantage of more cold water feeding into the river upstream of Sequoyah and Watts Bar from tributaries such as the Clinch and Hiwassee rivers. Also Browns Ferry has three reactors, while there is one operating at Watts Bar and two at Sequoyah.

Knoxville-based TVA has about 9 million customers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.