Mothballed Nuclear Plant Provides Fresh Training Perspective

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer
Region II

Few are aware that Nuclear Regulatory Commission instructors regularly teach basic reactor concepts while conducting tours at a mothballed nuclear plant site in Hollywood.

The Bellefonte site
The Bellefonte site

That’s Hollywood, Ala., by the way, and there’s no show biz connection.

Instructors at the NRC’s Technical Training Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., realized a few years ago that the two-unit, never-completed Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Hollywood, just 65 miles away, would be a perfect classroom. Even though many of the major components were either taken out or cut apart and then sold by the plant’s owners, the Tennessee Valley Authority, enough of the framework remains to allow students to get an extremely realistic idea of what a plant is like and how it works. TVA and the NRC signed a memorandum of understanding to allow the training to take place.

Since Bellefonte never had a fuel load, even containment and the empty spent fuel pools are open for official visitors.

“You can even eat inside containment,” Doug Simpkins, a TTC instructor, quipped to a unique class last week.

Instructors Simpkins and Mark Speck, both former resident inspectors in Region II, regularly teach a five-day course at Bellefonte, called Practical Applications of Reactor Technology as well as a separate Site Tour of Bellefonte course. They expanded the curriculum last month when John Pelchat, Region II’s government liaison officer, approached them with the idea of a customized course for personnel from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. That agency’s newly appointed head, Art Faulkner, wanted his people to learn how a nuclear plant works but preferred a shorter class.

Since Alabama has five operating commercial units, three at Browns Ferry near Huntsville and two at Farley near Dothan, preparation for a possible event is essential.

Representatives from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency listen to an NRC instructor at Bellefonte.
Representatives from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency listen to an NRC instructor at Bellefonte.

“Now they are going to have a mental picture,” said Faulkner during the two-day course that saw him and 19 of his lieutenants trooping through the sprawling plant with Simpkins and Speck. “During an event or an exercise, they are going to have a better idea of what’s going on at a plant.”

Brett Howard, the AEMA’s director of field operations, offered a graphic example of the value of the NRC training.

“We had an alert declared at Plant Farley due to a [malfunctioning] muffler coming off a diesel generator,” he said. “You think of a generator as being pretty small. Now we can see from these generators here that a muffler is as big as a sewer pipe. No wonder it took all day. It puts it in perspective.”

Faulkner was very pleased with the experience and urged his colleagues from other states to consider booking time with the NRC instructors, who also provide a look at how NRC inspectors do their jobs.

“Bar none, this is the most informative and best training we’ve done,” he said. “I believe it will enable us to better operate in the unlikely event we have an incident.”