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June 13 (Reuters) - The Tennessee Valley Authority said it plans to cut the budget and workforce at the Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama to reduce costs, which could delay the start-up of a new reactor at the site.
Since the U.S.-owned power company decided to complete the reactor at Bellefonte, "things have changed," a spokesman at TVA told Reuters on Thursday.
"Natural gas prices are lower and the growth in power demand is lower," Duncan Mansfield, the TVA spokesman, said. "TVA is trying to reduce operations and maintenance costs."
TVA said in a statement that it will reduce the operations and management budget at Bellefonte from about $182 million in fiscal 2013 to $66 million in fiscal 2014. Also it will reduce the onsite TVA and contractor staff from about 540 to about 140 over the next several months.
By October 1, 2013, the company said there will be 25 TVA employees and 115 onsite contractors at Bellefonte.
There are no operating reactors at Bellefonte. TVA started work on two reactors at the site in the 1970s but stopped work in the 1980s when Unit 1 was about 90 percent complete.
In 2011, TVA's Board agreed to complete one reactor at Bellefonte, the 1,260-megawatt (MW) Unit 1, after the company finished the 1,150-MW Unit 2 at Watts Bar in Tennessee.
Watts Bar 2 is now expected to enter service by the end of 2015, instead of initial plans for a 2013 start.
When TVA's board decided to complete Bellefonte 1 it expected the reactor to go on line by 2020 at a cost of about $4.9 billion. But that was before Watts Bar 2 was taking longer than expected to complete.
Last year, TVA said Watts Bar 2 would cost up to $4.5 billion and would enter service by the end of 2015. Initially, the unit was expected to go on line by 2013 and cost $2.5 billion.
Mansfield said TVA was working on an updated cost and timing study for Bellefonte 1 but he could not say when that report will be available.