Watts Bar – Making History In Yet Another Century

Jeanne Dion
Project Manager
Watts Bar Special Projects Branch

Unit 1 at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn., has a claim to fame as the last U.S. commercial nuclear reactor to come online in the 20th century. Now, the Tennessee Valley Authority aspires to have its sister reactor (Watts Bar Unit 2) make its own historic claim.

Numerous cranes helped complete construction of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 containment building in front of the plant’s cooling towers in 1977.
Numerous cranes helped complete construction of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 containment building in front of the plant’s cooling towers in 1977.

If the NRC concludes that the reactor is safe to operate and approves its operating license next year, Watts Bar Unit 2 could become the first new commercial nuclear reactor to come online in the U.S. in the 21st century.

To understand a little of the history of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, let’s rewind to a time when Schoolhouse Rock premiered and the first mobile phone call was made in New York City — a time predating the NRC. In 1973, the Atomic Energy Commission greenlighted construction of Watts Bar Units 1 and 2 under the “two-step licensing process,” where construction permits and operating licenses were issued separately.

In 1985, construction quality issues at its plants caused TVA to stop work at both Watts Bar Units. Eventually, TVA resolved the issues and completed construction of Unit 1, and the NRC issued its operating license in 1996.

Fast-forward to more recent activities. TVA decided in 2007 to reboot the Watts Bar Unit 2 construction and licensing process. They submitted an update to their original license application to the NRC in 2009.

Other recent applicants have elected to use the combined license application process, where we issue a single license to both construct and operate a nuclear power plant at a specific site. However, because of the unique history of Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA chose to continue under the two-step licensing process. So, NRC staff developed a regulatory framework and established a licensing approach tailored specifically to the project.

We updated our construction inspection program associated with the two-step licensing process to provide guidance that reflects current NRC practices. For example, the NRC staff identified areas for further inspection at Unit 2 by screening applicable communications, allegations and other open items in the review.

The NRC staff also developed inspection guidance specific to TVA’s refurbishment program, which replaces or refurbishes systems and components at Watts Bar Unit 2. TVA’s resolution of key safety issues and the continued progress of construction inspection activities drive our review schedule.

If the operating license is issued next year, the NRC’s job doesn’t just end. We’d continue to inspect start-up testing required for power ascension and to oversee that Unit 2 transitions into the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process before it can begin producing commercial power.

And, of course, the Resident Inspectors, the agency’s eyes and ears at the plant, would continue to carry out day-to-day inspection work to ensure safety and security is monitored and inspected during licensing and throughout the transition to commercial operation.

For more information about the Watts Bar Unit 2 project, visit the NRC’s website. There will be a Commission briefing Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. on the license application review. You get details about the briefing from the meeting notice. We’ll also do a live webcast.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

5 thoughts on “Watts Bar – Making History In Yet Another Century”

  1. is nuclear the best option for our energy needs. if we are going to use nuclear, we need to find nuclear disposable mechanisms which make the waste products of nuclear plants not harmful

  2. Dr Frankenstein is Back!
    TVA’s Dr. Frankenstein is at it again! The good doctor has already brought back one old nuclear power plant from the dead at TVA and is now hooking up another for resurrection. The Watts Bar nuclear units (Units 1 & 2) were designed a half-century ago. Unit 1 finally entered service in 1996. TVA is planning to get Unit 2 running late next year. These old nuclear plant fossils were designed at the same time as the stricken Fukushima reactors in Japan. To their credit TVA has replaced some unused old equipment at Unit 2 with new equipment. Unit 1 has operated quite successfully since its start-up, logging two continuous operating runs of 512 and 437 days prior to 2008. But the downside is TVA’s poor regulatory performance record. Both nuclear units have been assessed large civil penalties (and we know who pays those) for falsifying documents; for using non-certified parts; for retaliating against an employee for raising safety concerns; for withholding adverse information on potential flooding; & for multiple challenges to a safety system. Another civil penalty was narrowly avoided because the TVA “lawyered-up” and got an out-of-court settlement with the NRC. More recently the TVA has been granted an extension of time to complete a flooding re-evaluation at the site. This evaluation must assume catastrophic earthen dam failures upstream from the site. Not an easy evaluation as there are 17 upstream dams involved. Based on TVA’s poor handling of prior flooding analysis, a complete independent evaluation of TVA’s analysis should be performed before the NRC authorizes the start-up of Unit 2. In my opinion the TVA has gone overboard on expensive nuclear power. TVA is behaving like a moth drawn to a flame. And we know who pays the price for that too!

  3. Histrionics? The TVA has nearly bankrupted itself due to unnecessary nuclear construction and ill advised projects such as Watts Bar, Bellefonte and now the revisited Clinch River site with a SMR project over a sinkhole and Karst terrain. That is not “histrionics,” as a ratepayer I’m not a satisfied customer as I detest waste and abuse.

    Lets discuss the so called drama of Bellefonte, Yellow Creek, Phipps Bend and Hartsville, all nuclear projects cancelled during the construction phase due to the ever present intentional underestimation of costs, over estimation of power needs and facilitation of deceit to the public. Or how about the woeful shortage of nuclear decommissioning funds and personnel retirement fund shortages in TVA’s coffers. All due to nuclear power expenditures – this includes Watts Bar. TVA financial problems are not drama nor emotion, unless you are one of the employees or retirees who are concerned about their retirement money.

    For some nuclear PR types and the supporters of nuclear power the accusation of emotion and drama, histrionics, in a factual presentation where there was no “histrionics” fills their need for transference of reality. Mr. Riccio stated facts, not drama nor emotion.

    The complete history of Watts Bar needs to be told, not just a partial history from the NRC, TVA or the NEI’s historical accounts. There have been many improvements and many sacrifices made due to the “whistleblowers,” to say discussion of whistleblowers and their contributions is “histrionics” is fallacy, not fact.

    The purpose of history is to learn from the past so that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past history – nothing dramatic or emotional about that, just part of a wise decision making process.

  4. The blogger writes an 11-paragraph 20,000-foot view of the entire history of Watts Bar, and you make her out to be a liar for not delving into an isolated event that aligns with your worldview? Please…..take your histrionics elsewhere.

  5. Nice revisionist history! The NRC licensed TVA’s Watts Bar 1 by betraying TVA’s whistle blowers. NRC & TVA entered into a MOU to handover those who came to NRC to raise safety issues. NRC betrayed nuclear workers who were trying to do the right thing. The MOU was signed by NRC’s Ben Hayes and TVA’s Norman Zigrossi. Hayes was fired by NRC, TVA gave Zigrossi a bonus!

    According to NRC OIG:
    On July 14, 1994, the NRC OIG issued its Report of Investigation for Case No. 93-85H, “Investigation of Improper Disclosure of Allegers’ Identities By the NRC Office of Investigations (OI) to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Office of the Inspector General (TVA-OIG).” OIG investigated allegations raised by TVA employees that they believed NRC granted them “confidentiality” when they reported safety concerns but subsequently disclosed their names to the TVA-OIG without their consent. These individuals further alleged that these disclosures were facilitated by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into by the TVA-OIG and the NRC Office of Investigations (OI). Four findings were made. The investigation determined:

    OI disclosed to the TVA-OIG without the individuals’ consent or knowledge the identities of allegers who believed their identities would be held confidential.

    OI did not have an adequate system in place to track referrals made to the TVA-OIG.

    Region II employees were misleading allegers as to the degree they could expect their identities to be protected, based upon a regional office instruction.

    interpretation of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions was contrary to the general NRC practice until revised at the direction of the Deputy Executive Director for Operations in May 1991, thus allowing the release of allegers’ names who had not signed confidentiality agreements.


    Here’s the MOU:

    Click to access ML012410412.pdf

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: