Special Subcommittee on Energy

 

Minutes of the<MeetNo1> 5th Meeting

of the 2012 Interim

 

<MeetMDY1> November 16, 2012

 

Call to Order and Roll Call

The<MeetNo2> 5th meeting of the Special Subcommittee on Energy was held on<Day> Friday,<MeetMDY2> November 16, 2012, at<MeetTime> 10:00 AM, in<Room> Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Brandon Smith, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.

 

Present were:

 

Members:<Members> Senator Brandon Smith, Co-Chair; Representative Keith Hall, Co-Chair; Senators Joe Bowen, Ernie Harris, Bob Leeper, Dorsey Ridley- via video conference, Katie Stine, Johnny Ray Turner, and Robin L. Webb; Representatives Royce W. Adams, Rocky Adkins, Tim Couch, Will Coursey, Jim Gooch Jr., Wade Hurt, Thomas Kerr, Lonnie Napier, Sannie Overly, Tom Riner, Kevin Sinnette, John Will Stacy, Fitz Steele, and Brent Yonts.

 

Guests: Mike Lorek, Vice President, Nuclear Operations Support, Tennessee Valley Authority; Sarah Davasher, Program Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority, Kentucky District; Bob Morris, Vice President, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Danny Townsend, Townsend Sorghum, Montgomery County.

 

LRC Staff: D. Todd Littlefield and Susan Spoonamore, Committee Assistant.

 

The October 29, 2012 minutes were approved without objection, by voice vote, upon motion made by Senator Bowen and second by Representative Hall.

 

Nuclear Power and a Balanced Energy Mix

Mr. Mike Lorek, Vice President, TVA Nuclear Operations Support, discussed nuclear power and a balanced energy mix. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a federal corporation funded entirely by power sales. TVA provides electricity, economic development, flood control, and navigation. It covers 80,000 square miles and serves 9 million people. Its mission is to be one of the nationís leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020. Nuclear energy makes up nearly 20 percent of the nationís electricity supply. Nuclear power produces the most cost-efficient electricity compared to coal and natural gas, with 104 reactors in 31 states. As a result of the Three Mile Island and the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant accidents, safety is the top priority. The plants are well designed and operated by professionals who must undergo intensive training on a regular basis. There are well organized emergency plans, coordinated with state, local and federal officials. There are challenges for the nuclear industry such as cost, emergency preparedness, and waste storage.

 

In response to Senator Smith, Mr. Lorek stated that, as a result of the Three Mile Island disaster, a federal emergency response organization was formed to ensure that the correct infrastructure is in place to protect the safety and health of the public. The emergency response preparedness team coordinates with local, state, and federal officials. The disaster at the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plants was caused by an earthquake followed by a tsunami, and the tsunami caused the major problems at the plant. The only power available was through batteries. As a result, it became clear that nuclear plants needed to have a way to transport pumps and generators or else have them stored on site in a flood proof bunker.

 

In response to Senator Smith, Mr. Lorek stated that there is no strategy to repel or prevent attacks or accidents involving aircraft. The structures are designed to withstand tornado winds of 300 mph.

 

In response to Senator Webb, Mr. Lorek said that TVA manages a nuclear plant in Alabama and two in Tennessee. There are stringent environmental and seismic regulations for locating and building new plants. Tennessee and Alabama state officials do not play a role in siting or regulations. They have their own resident inspectors. Licensing, operating, and siting are primarily federal processes.

 

In response to Representative Rinerís questions, Mr. Lorek stated that even if nuclear plants are not located in Kentucky, they will still affect Kentucky. TVA will purchase generation on the open market if it is cheaper than buying from a coal-fired plant. If nuclear power plants are targeted by air strikes, the United States would need to intercept the planes or missiles. TVA has been assured that if a nuclear power plant is hit by a plane, there would be no release of radioactive material.

 

Mr. Lorek stated that radioactive waste is classified as high or low level waste. Only high level waste, or spent fuel, is stored on site. No national solution has been found for permanent disposal of high level waste. High level waste is being stored in stainless steel and concrete containers on site. Low level waste is shipped to a regional storage facility.

 

In response to Senator Smith, Mr. Lorek said that with the exception of Three Mile Island, there has never been a leak of radioactive materials above the federal required limit. Small amounts of radioactive material are released into the air every day within government limits.

 

In response to Senator Leeperís question, Mr. Lorek said that he could not confirm that the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere from Three Mile Island was equivalent to one chest x-ray.

 

Mr. Lorek said that TVA is preparing to move forward with construction of two nuclear plants. One would be the Watts Bar 2 unit in Tennessee with a projected completion date around June, 2015. Construction will not begin on Bellefonte 1 until Watts Bar 2 is completed. TVA has partnered with Babcock and Wilcox to build Bellefonte 1. Depending upon the outcome, small modular reactors could replace aging coal units and use existing sites and transmission.

 

In response to Senator Webb, Mr. Lorek said it would probably be around the year 2020 before modular reactors come on line. There is a federal licensing process that could take a long time before a license is issued for construction. High level waste is contained on-site, but low level waste is shipped to central burial depositories in Texas. The federal government is committed to finding a solution for storing high level waste, but there have been no recent developments on finding central depositories.

 

In response to Representative Yonts, Mr. Lorek said that Watts Bar 2 nuclear plant would go on-line in December of 2015. The original plan for Bellefonte 1 has not changed, but because Watts Bar 2 would not be completed until 2013, the Bellefonte 1 plant completion date was pushed back. Money that has been spent at Bellefonte has not been wasted.

 

Sorghum as an Energy Crop

Mr. Danny Townsend, Townsend Sorghum, from Montgomery County, talked about the potential of using the sweet juice of sorghum for making ethanol. Growing sorghum is inexpensive and needs less water than corn. Another advantage for growing sorghum is that it does not require fertile soil.

 

In response to Senator Smith, Mr. Townsend stated that he did not know why farmers in Kentucky were not more involved in growing sorghum. Every big country is looking at sweet sorghum to produce ethanol. He does not make ethanol at his farm. One of the problems for sorghum development is that farmers are not informed of the potential. There are no ethanol plants in eastern Kentucky. He has been approached about growing sorghum for ethanol, but his family is more involved in making syrup.

 

Mr. Townsend said that BioDimensions, Delta Bioworks, a company in Memphis, Tennessee is the only company that he is aware of that is using sweet sorghum for multiple products. There could be a demand for sweet sorghum if more money were put into research.

 

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.