The Tennessee Valley Authority told a federal regulator it won’t renew permits requiring it to maintain the partially completed 1,256-MW Bellefonte nuclear plant site in northeast Alabama—officially ending a private developer's plan to finish work that was started in the 1970s and indicating other redevelopment plans for the 1,600-acre site.

TVA’s mid-September notice to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking to cancel extension of the site’s combined construction and operating permit, which was to expire Oct. 1, follows a federal court ruling in late August that the federal power producer could terminate a $111-million site purchase contract signed in 2016 with Nuclear Development LLC to finish the project.

The U.S. district court decision comes in a 2018 complaint by that firm, claiming TVA breached its sales agreement for Bellefonte.

TVA argued that under federal law, NRC must approve permit transfer before the plant’s sale could be finished and that Nuclear Development filed its application with the agency too late to allow enough time for approval.

The developer’s failure to secure approval in time “was attributable entirely to [its] slow decision-making and casual approach to the transfer-application process,” Judge Lisle Burke said in an Aug. 26 ruling.

Burke attributed the delay to Nuclear Development’s indecision related to the project’s quality assurance program required under federal law. All permit transfer applications must include a QA description for design, fabrication, construction and testing of facility structures, systems, and components.

Nuclear Development could not decide whether to hire SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., Exelon “or some other company with requisite experience” in time to file a timely transfer request, Burke’s ruling said. “In short, it was Nuclear Development’s own actions that prevented the timely submission of the license-transfer application,” he said. An executive of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, which was previously noted as the developer’s EPC contractor, testified in the breach of contract trial.

Construction permits were first issued in December 1974 for the two-unit plant. Construction was shut down in 1988 after an investment of about $6 billion with one unit about 90% complete and the other 58% finished. The units are now less complete as equipment and systems have been salvaged for use at other TVA nuclear plants over the years.

The power producer in 2010 planned to finish one reactor but in 2016 declared the property surplus and auctioned it for sale after determining no further baseload power need for another 20 years. The units are pressurized water reactors designed in the 1960s. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said its Babcock & Wilcox design is “best described as a special edition antique.” 

Nuclear Development, which was the highest bidder at $111 million, had expected to complete the units for $11 billion, with funding set to include about $4.5 billion in requested loan guarantees from the U.S. Energy Dept.

The firm had invested $22.2 million, which the judge ordered TVA to refund with interest. He denied the company request for $30 million in damages related to the deal’s collapse.

Nuclear Development has until late October to appeal the decision. It did not respond to a request for comment by ENR on its next steps.

TVA now will begin to consider “more productive ways to use the site,” spokesman Jim Hopson told ENR. He did not detail current options but said Its location close to rail, river and interstate highway transportation make it a valuable development site. It is unclear what will happen to current structures at the site. He said Bellefonte would not likely be used for renewable power since TVA, as a federal agency, cannot take advantage of tax credits.

TVA announced in 2020 a a two-year purchase option for a 3,000-acre site in Lawrence County, Ala. for a new solar energy project, now under federal environmental review.  The producer plans to add 10,000 MW of new solar by 2035.