The Tennessee Valley Authority, you know, the federal agency that supplies electricity for about nine million people in the Southeast, must be crazy if the definition of insanity is described as repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different outcome.

The most outlandish example of this is how TVA has dealt with nuclear reactors from the start. First, a group of three so-called experts in the field decided wrongly on the number of reactors needed at the time and for long-term.They started far too many reactors at once; cost overruns became overwhelming and demand for electricity dropped drastically. This scenario is repeating itself yet again. But what does TVA do?

‘Let’s build so-called small modular reactors for a tenth of the cost and of course and a tenth of the power.’ That’s the prediction from the experts. A small modular nuclear reactor, SMR, has never been built or even successfully tested. To the consternation of TVA’s ratepayers, the ones who must pay for this very expensive experiment, it’s hair-pulling time.

You might just as well have TVA build a submarine and call it a portable power supply. But wait! The Navy has already done this, decades ago.

This is not to belittle the SMR, because it is a new and untried method to deliver electrical power. And it is timely regarding possible cyber attacks to the grid. With smaller power suppliers, transmission lines remain the same but the power is subdivided into smaller groups of users so that catastrophic power failures affect smaller areas. Hmm, sounds like the way electricity was delivered in the past using more traditional and cheaper energy sources.

 When tornadoes and storms ripped up nearly 100 miles of primary transmission lines in north Alabama several years ago, though devastated, much of the power was restored fairly soon by working around with existing power lines. The way “it used to be”?

 One thing ratepayers’ dread is that they must pay again for another TVA folly. It’s a familiar theme; borrow more money and this time get even more help from the Department of Energy which is illegal on the face of it. The pattern is the same and the road is endless for can kicking. The ratepayers’ tab has been run up to nearly $30 billion so far with no end in sight.

 TVA is a peculiarly different program of FDR’s that President Obama would love to emulate, no matter the cost or who has to pay. TVA ratepayers should have a say in any developments that directly affect their pocketbook.

 Costly reactors, fits and starts, have cost billions in wasted dollars. And now, TVA is trying to finish two reactors that have decade’s old technology now obsolete. What to do? Why, plow ahead with old concepts none of which were time and cost estimated properly within a “budget” (using the term “budget” very loosely,) and continuing use of the insanity defense.

 One of the old reactors was re-started at the Browns Ferry site and TVA proclaimed that the restart was “on time and on budget,” neither of which, as it turned out, was true. But President Bush took TVA’s statement as true and repeated the error. Bush was “sand bagged”; of course, nobody at TVA was punished for lying or was fired. The cooling capacity of the reactors was not correctly designed in the first place.

 The project has been plagued with problems since then but all TVA does is throw good money after bad. At one time, the NRC rated it the worst nuclear reactor in the U.S. I have knowledge from on-site reports that the operators acted lackadaisical and once let a cleanup person “shut down a nuclear reactor.”

 TVA says it plans to do a new “Integrated Resource Plan.” With some meetings held in secret like those held during the endless meetings of the present IRP, the results likely would be similar, not worth the paper it was written on. A new CEO, a new direction.

 TVA claims to provide electricity at “competitive rates,” which is not a true statement; there are cheaper rates in adjacent utilities. And anyway, why does TVA compete with other power suppliers? The government should not compete in our free market system.

Limited Government

Ernest Norsworthy

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