Kingsport Times-News: Fallout

Alexander says disaster in Japan will sharpen focus on nuclear safety ‘Nuclear power provides 70 percent of our country’s clean electricity.’ — Sen. Lamar Alexander

Posted on March 22, 2011

ROGERSVILLE — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander downplayed on Monday any impact that Japan’s nuclear crisis might have on the future of nuclear power in the United States.

    The Tennessee Republican said that at a minimum, what happened in Japan has caused nuclear power advocates to stop and take a look at best safety practices.

    “But we need to keep this in perspective,” Alexander said after touring construction of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s $800 million natural gas-powered John Se- vier plant. “Nuclear power provides 70 percent of our country’s clean electricity. It’s low cost and reliable. There’s never been a death in connection with our reactors. ... At our only big accident at Three Mile Island 30 years ago, not a single person was hurt. When you compare that safety record with coal and oil spills and gas plant explosions, it’s very impressive. ... Every form of energy production has some danger to it. And certainly we ought to take lessons from Japan, but TVA’s nuclear reactors (TVA operates six nuclear units at three locations) and all those in the United States are among the safest operating energy producers in our count r y. ”

    Alexander liked what he saw at the John Sevier facility, which is about 40 percent complete moving toward a summer 2012 completion date.

    After the gas turbine facility goes online, two of four coal-fired units at the nearby John Sevier Fossil Plant will be idled, according to TVA.

    TVA says the gas facility puts out 40 percent less emissions than a coal-fired plant.

    According to TVA, the project will allow the agency to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions under the federal Clean Air Act and a federal court o r d e r.

    Under that order, TVA is required to install nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emission controls on the John Sevier coal units by Jan. 1, 2012.

    TVA points out the gas turbine facility, called a combined-cycle plant, is designed to start quickly during peak demand periods.

    The project is creating more than 400 construction jobs, including positions for 300 local workers. TVA says the contractor, Lenexa, Kansas-based Kiewit Corp., expects to hire about 150 more people locally. Once complete, the gas plant will create up to 35 permanent jobs.

    A new 8.5-mile natural gas pipeline built by Spectra Energy/ East Tennessee Natural Gas will feed the plant’s turbines, which will be connected to generators to produce electricity.

    Alexander said he liked TVA’s strategy to balance its fuel stock portfolio among coal, natural gas and nuclear materials.

    “I think TVA has a good story to tell,” he said. “It can lead the nation in improvements in clean air and new nuclear power and energy efficiency. I think it’s wise to balance. ... It may be a way to take carbon out of our existing coal plants. Nuclear power is an essential part of our future, in my opinion, but it takes a long time to build a plant.”

    Alexander also said Congress, not the Environmental Protection Agency, should be regulating power plant and industrial emissions.

    “We know what to do about sulfur and nitrogen and mercury, and we’re beginning to do it,” he said. “It’s going to make the air cleaner in East Tennessee and people healthier ... and make it easier for Upper East Tennessee communities to meet clean air standards and recruit industries. Carbon is still a complicated problem. It’s the kind of problem that Congress has elected to solve, not an agency.”