U.S. NRC Blog

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Counting the Steps to a Final Watts Bar Unit 2 Decision

Jeanne Dion
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation

The NRC’s Commissioners have given the staff the authority to issue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) a full-power operating license for Unit 2 at the Watts Bar nuclear power plant site in Tennessee. That permission has some strings attached, however, so we’re still months away from our final licensing decision.

wattsbarconstructionsriIf TVA is issued the license, Watts Bar 2 will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to start operating since 1996, when Watts Bar 1 came online. TVA still has to satisfy the staff that several regulatory requirements for safe operation of Unit 2 have been met. We’re finishing up the licensing and inspection activities we need to conclude TVA is ready to load fuel and operate the reactor, which is near Spring City, Tenn.

We have to be satisfied not only that Unit 2 is safe to operate, but also that TVA can safely transition to operating two reactors at the site. We’re completing a few licensing actions needed to support dual-unit operation at Watts Bar. TVA also has to pass our remaining operational readiness inspections.

Other upcoming milestones include getting a recommendation from the NRC’s Region II Administrator, who has oversight responsibility for all inspections performed at Watts Bar 2. We also need to issue a couple supplements to the reactor’s Safety Evaluation Report.

TVA’s progress in completing construction and testing of Watts Bar 2 will directly influence our completion of the milestones. We may be able to make a licensing decision later this year. TVA has said repeatedly, however, that the actual operating license date depends on several factors and could shift as the final months’ work is completed. While we take TVA’s schedule into consideration for planning our licensing and inspection work, our priority is always on ensuring safety.

If we conclude Unit 2 is safe and ready to receive a license, TVA will still have to successfully complete several tests, including running the reactor at gradually increasing power levels, before the reactor can provide electricity to the grid. The NRC website has more information on the past few years of Watts Bar Unit 2’s licensing and inspection activities.

19 responses to “Counting the Steps to a Final Watts Bar Unit 2 Decision

  1. zona nokia June 30, 2015 at 1:25 am

    The high cancer incidence rates have been presented to the TVA and NRC as evidence relative to existing human health declines in the areas surrounding Watts Bar, this does not matter to those whose concern is money over human health and welfare. The bottom line of corporate interests takes precedent over human beings health, a dangerous precedent in the nuclear world, and a Human Reliability failure.

  2. NukePuke June 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Two Different TVAs
    Yes, two different TVAs; one that takes care of some of its nuclear power plants and one that doesn’t.
    According to an article entitled “Nuclear Safety Imperfection” by Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), NRC performance data since the turn of the century has been utilized to rank 104 nuclear power reactors in the US. Seems there are persistent top-performing plants and sadly, consistently poor-performing plants. Here’s how the TVA plants stack up…best to poorest performers…
    #29 Watts Bar Unit 1
    #36 Sequoyah Unit 2
    #42 Sequoyah Unit 1
    Then,
    #61 Browns Ferry Unit 3
    #83 Browns Ferry Unit 2
    #98 Browns Ferry Unit 1
    Are there two different TVAs operating and maintaining these plants?!
    The three units with the good scorecard are all Pressurized Water Reactors and the three poor-performing units are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs). These BWRs also have the same suspect Mark I containment structures that failed to contain much of anything during the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
    It has been said in the business world that “You are only as good as your weakest link”.
    If there is only one TVA then by this standard TVA’s performance is weak.
    Yet TVA is proceeding right along with bringing a Watts Bar Unit 2 on line. From all I have read Watts Bar Unit 2 should be just as good a plant as its sister unit and the Sequoyah units. The Watts Bar units as well as the Sequoyah units are also equipped with the latest in containment structures, so-called “ice condensers”. WB1 also has had a continuous run of 512 days (2000) and a stellar capacity factor of 99% (2010). That capacity factor ranked it sixth in the nation at the time.
    But given all this, if you had to live close to a TVA nuke unit, which TVA unit would you chose for your neighbor?
    TVA has put forth a huge effort to complete WB1 and now to complete WB2. Why have they not been able, in 15 years, to bring their old Browns Ferry units up to par?!
    Is TVA spread too thin? How about requiring that the performance of the Browns Ferry units be considerably improved before WB2 is granted its operating license by the NRC?
    Without this sort of incentive how much longer will substandard performance at these Browns Ferry units be allowed?!
    More importantly, this would also be in the best interests of reactor and public safety.

  3. Tom Clements June 2, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Strange that the blog doesn’t say what will happen if the NRC denies the license. The blog implies it’s a foregone conclusion that Watts Bar unit 2 will get its operating license, right? Is that an indication of proper oversight or not?

    • xoviat June 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

      The mission of the NRC is to “protect people and the environment” from harmful radiation. No power reactor regulated under the NRC has significantly harmed the environment. The mission of the NRC is not to deny licenses to nuclear operators; the reason that the license approval is a foregone conclusion is that Watts Bar 2 poses no greater threat to the public than any of the existing plants.

      Maybe the nuclear industry has captured the NRC. Maybe not. But as before, the mission of the NRC is not necessarily to be “independent,” it is to prevent harmful radiation. By most measures, it has fulfilled that mission.

    • gmax137 June 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      It is not a foregone conclusion when the work starts; rather it is an earned conclusion after decades of work by TVA and NRC staff reviewers, along with myriad design changes necessary for both TVA and NRC to agree that the final plant meets all of the regulatory requirements.

  4. CaptD June 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    The NRC’s Commissioners are just passing the BUCK, since they have already granted the approval, subject to “STAFF” making sure everything is OK…

    If this is now NRC SOP, then how the NRC getting rid of The NRC’s Commissioners and just let the NRC STAFF take care of all nuclear safety, since they not The NRC’s Commissioners are doing it already!

    The NRC need less “figure-heads” and more STAFF that are concerned with nuclear safety instead of Nuclear Politics.

  5. stock June 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Thats some seriously old equipment there.

    That would be like me taking my 66 mustang, souping it up, taking it to the race track, and expecting nothing to break.

    But big difference between a tow back to my shop, and a nuclear accident.

    • CaptD June 1, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Stock – At least you would be responsible, whereas the NRC on the other hand would only pass the BUCK to the Track Operator, the other drivers and of course everything else including the weather!

      • stock June 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

        Ya Captain, the only safe old nuke plant is one that is shut down and dry casked 100%

    • perdajz June 1, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      No, it’s nothing like that. Besides, your driving is a bigger threat to public health and safety than any nuclear plant. Realistically, one mistake or mechanical failure while you are behind the wheel could be lethal. You should be denied a driver’s license until you can prove that your driving is safe. A nuclear power plant will never hurt anyone, ever.

      • Garry Morgan June 2, 2015 at 10:58 pm

        Quote: “A nuclear power plant will never hurt anyone, ever” On several levels you are very, very wrong. 1) Money – a nuke plant costs big bucks, over 10 billion dollars in todays money per unit and increasing. That increases the power bill for industry, business and families. 2) All nuclear plants emit ionizing radiation and all ionizing radiation bio-accumulates in the environment. 3) It is a fact that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation. 4) It is a fact that ionizing radiation contaminants have been dumped in East Tennessee in the past and are being dumped in the present. 5) Radionuclide contaminants have caused cancer in East Tennessee and will cause cancer in the future. 6) The nuclear waste is a growing problem that complicates an already growing nuclear waste problem in East Tennessee and the entire TVA system. 7) The highly irradiated nuclear trash, spent fuel, is dangerous and a liability for all concerned.

  6. adrossin June 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Shame on NRC. Watts Bar should have been in CO-2 free operation for decade or more.

  7. Garry Morgan June 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

    This is a complete failure of the regulatory process , in my opinion. Issuing the license before final safety inspections reeks of political influence from political officials such as Sen. Inhofe, R-OK, who has threatened to defund the NRC, and Sen. Alexander and his out of touch with reality plan for one-hundred new reactors. These individuals are suppose to provide oversight of the NRC, unfortunately it appears these political individuals represent themselves, hidden political donors, and special interest groups such as the NEI, instead of prudent decision making for the people of the United States.

    Issuing a license to operate before all safety tests are complete, conveys pressure to overlook instances of safety defects and human failure, which have been a historical problem at TVA’s Watts Bar.

    To demonstrate the absurdity of issuing a license prior to completion of safety testing all one must do is read this information article posted. Quote: “The NRC’s Commissioners have given the staff the authority to issue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) a full-power operating license for Unit 2 at the Watts Bar nuclear power plant site in Tennessee. That permission has some strings attached, however, so we’re still months away from our final licensing decision…(last paragraph) If we conclude Unit 2 is safe and ready to receive a license, TVA will still have to successfully complete several tests…” This is a contradiction in words, first they say the reactor is safe and the license is issued; then, the NRC admits that the testing is not complete, however that does not matter, the license is issued. More evidence that the NRC is more interested in catering to political pressure and the industry instead of doing their job to protect the health of the citizens of the Tennessee River Valley from nuclear accidents. Never should a nuclear reactor’s license be issued before all safety testing is complete.

    Speaking of citizen health, the NRC completely ignores the fact that the county where Watts Bar is located has the highest cancer incidence rates in Tennessee, according to the National Cancer Institute’s cancer mapping program, it is #19 in the nation for all counties within the U.S. reporting cancer (as of 2014). These facts were demonstrated to the NRC and the TVA this year. A soon to be released Health and Emissions survey and study of the Tennessee River Valley in East Tennessee have demonstrated ionizing radiation from the nuclear industry along with chemical contamination have shown to be causative factors in this high incidence of cancer rates. The NRC does not consider citizen health and existing ionizing radiation and chemical contaminants in its reactor oversight nor environmental protection processes. As a matter of record (Sequoyah 2013 relicensing public meeting), the NRC has stated in licensing and re-licensing processes it is economics that is the driving factor of licensing a nuclear reactor. Citizen health and safety must take a back seat to money. This is an example of failed values perpetuated by multi-national corporations and special interests groups involved in the government’s bureaucracy over reasonable safety standards of a regulatory process to protect citizens and the environment.

    • Moderator June 1, 2015 at 11:58 am

      The NRC will only issue an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2 after the Tennessee Valley Authority satisfies all the relevant regulations, including passing several NRC inspections. A final agency decision regarding the license is expected no earlier than mid-summer.

      Jeanne Dion

      • gmax137 June 1, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        Not to mention that the Operating License defines the periodic testing (shiftly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) that the operators have to perform throughout the life of the plant in order to keep the plant running. It isn’t like you get the license and that’s the end of the testing.

      • Garry Morgan June 2, 2015 at 3:20 am

        The article says the license already has been approved – Quote: “The NRC’s Commissioners have given the staff the authority to issue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) a full-power operating license for Unit 2 at the Watts Bar nuclear power plant site in Tennessee.” Why would the commissioners approve the issuance of a license prior to final safety testing being complete? ‘Cart before the horse’ licensing does not instill confidence in the regulatory process, the approval of the license has already been granted.

        If the commission had said a limited license had been issued for limited power production during final phase testing, that is understandable. But to issue a ‘FULL POWER LICENSE’ prior to final testing is not sensible and indicates a rush to issue the license. If something goes wrong, how will the staff reverse the decision of your bosses, the commissioners?

        You say: “If we conclude Unit 2 is safe and ready to receive a license, TVA will still have to successfully complete several tests…” You are saying the plant is not safe for full power operation or ready to receive the license at this time already approved by the commission, do you not see the conundrum created by this action? In my opinion the bottom line is this, what may seem sensible to you is not sensible to citizens observing your actions.

    • Dan Williamson June 2, 2015 at 8:20 am

      Please be sure to follow up with the link to that report when it’s issued. I’ll be interested in the specifics supporting the contention that “….demonstrated ionizing radiation from the nuclear industry ….shown to be causative factors in this high incidence of cancer rates.” I mean, since licensed and approved emissions from nuclear plants are virtually indistinguishable (and a statistically insignificant contributor) from normally occurring isotopes and other sources of the 300 mr dose that everyone receives just by being on the planet, such a report would be highly enlightening.

    • dmills June 2, 2015 at 8:27 am

      “A soon to be released Health and Emissions survey and study of the Tennessee River Valley in East Tennessee have demonstrated ionizing radiation from the nuclear industry along with chemical contamination have shown to be causative factors in this high incidence of cancer rates.”

      Please provide this reference or point me to where I can read it.

      • Garry Morgan June 2, 2015 at 10:36 pm

        The report will be issued soon. You may see and read about the specific cancer rate indicators at the National Cancer Institute’s mapping site.at http://statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov/map/map.withimage.php?47&001&001&00&0&01&0&1&5&0#results Note the types of increased cancers such as leukemia, breast, ovarian, thyroid etc. for Rhea County Tennessee.

        Another indicator of problems in East Tennessee is the amount of Uranium dumped atmospherically into the environment since 1945. Reference – http://health.state.tn.us/ceds/oakridge/Uranium.pdf Tritium dumping continues to this date, do not forget that man made ionizing radiation bio-accumulates in the environment. My suggestion is to enter into your Google search engine the following terms – “tritium groundwater contamination in east Tennessee.” You will receive a prolifera of data on groundwater tritium contamination.

        This information is related to the Watts Bar Nuclear Facility, existing environmental factors regarding citizen health are conveniently overlooked by regulators and public officials “chomping at the bit” to license this facility.

        The high cancer incidence rates have been presented to the TVA and NRC as evidence relative to existing human health declines in the areas surrounding Watts Bar, this does not matter to those whose concern is money over human health and welfare. The bottom line of corporate interests takes precedent over human beings health, a dangerous precedent in the nuclear world, and a Human Reliability failure.

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