U.S. NRC Blog

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The Inspection Beat Goes on at Watts Bar Unit 2

William Jones
Director of the Division of Construction Projects
Region II

An NRC Construction Resident Inspector watches TVA staff install the reactor pressure vessel inside the containment building at Watts Bar Unit 2.

An NRC Construction Resident Inspector watches TVA staff perform construction activities at Watts Bar Unit 2.

The NRC has issued an operating license to the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor in Tennessee, bringing the U.S. to 100 commercial reactors. The plant’s owner, the Tennessee Valley Authority, had restarted construction of the incomplete reactor in 2007 and updated its application for Unit 2’s license in 2009.

Since 2007, NRC inspectors have devoted more than 200,000 hours to supporting the agency’s decision that Unit 2 qualifies for a license. There’s more to do, however, before Unit 2 starts splitting atoms and generating electricity, and the NRC’s going to keep an eye on all of that.

The NRC’s two permanent Resident Inspectors at Watts Bar have another full-time resident inspector and additional regional inspectors on site during this period. The inspectors and NRC management follow a well-defined process to monitor a plant as it starts up for the first time.  One of the most obvious steps we’ll monitor is when TVA loads the uranium fuel into the Unit 2 reactor.

Once Unit 2 is ready for the initial reactor startup, the NRC staff will verify TVA has properly calibrated the instruments that monitor the chain reaction even at the lowest sustainable level. The plant operators must also show they can manually shut off the chain reaction. When all those steps are done, the NRC inspectors will watch the operators’ actions as they let Unit 2 start splitting a very small number of atoms.

The next step involves testing the reactor at very low power levels. The chain reaction is affected by changes in coolant water temperature and chemicals in the water. The NRC inspectors will examine the low-power tests to ensure the plant has properly measured changes in the reaction.

As each of these tests is passed, Unit 2 will increase power in small steps and examine the reactor’s response to abnormal events. For instance, if the plant’s turbine stops running the reactor’s heat has lost its normal outlet, so the reactor must shut down. The reactor must also respond properly to shutdown commands from alternate control stations and a simulated loss of power from the electric grid.

If TVA successfully completes all of these steps, Unit 2 will be ready to add about 1,100 megawatts to the electric grid in the Southeast. During this entire process, the NRC’s inspectors will also be gathering and analyzing the information needed to gauge Unit 2’s safety performance under the agency’s Reactor Oversight Process. This process will guide NRC actions at Unit 2 as long as the plant continues to operate.

22 responses to “The Inspection Beat Goes on at Watts Bar Unit 2

  1. Concerned Public October 25, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    That’s a great looking inspector. Shows they care about their job and their well-being.

  2. richard123456columbia October 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Fukushima plant designers, builders and inspectors from the USA spent all that money and time for safety and still Fukushima happened because it cost to much to prepare against known tsunamis in the past 100 years, allowed the use of fuel that the plant was not designed for, it happened because it cost to much to prepare against known tsunami s in the past 100 years, allowed the use of fuel that the plant was not originally designed for. It cost to much to protect against all probable events from mining to production so the only way to allow NPP is to convince the public that the cost or risk is acceptable, failing that just ram it through no matter what gets in the way. The trouble with risk today is we have seen far to many accidents and the plants leaking causing the areas around plants to increase in unwanted radiation, as time passes the radiation levels increase, how high is the tipping point when people will have to relocate. By then the cost will be to high and every one will be on their own to leave or stay, if there is a safer place to go to by then.

    • Engineer-Poet October 25, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      still Fukushima happened because it cost to much to prepare against known tsunamis in the past 100 years

      The historical tsunami that would have flooded the plant was older than that.

      allowed the use of fuel that the plant was not designed for

      The fuel was designed for the plant.

      the only way to allow NPP is to convince the public that the cost or risk is acceptable

      We know that Naoto Kan’s evacuation order caused more than 10x as many fatalities as leaving people to shelter in place would have, even under the worst-case projections of radiation exposure and hazard from radiation.  We know that the replacement coal and oil burned in the nuclear shutdown killed far more people from pollution than even the worst-case projection from Fukushima radiation.

      The problem is that the Japanese are, on average, clinically paranoid about radiation.  This makes it very difficult even to take sensible protective measures (like raising seawalls) without causing a panic, and if Fukushima proved anything it is that panics are much deadlier than small amounts of radiation.

      Part of the problem is that certain “experts” and members of the press have made careers out of stoking this paranoia.  Japan may have to put those people in jail to get the facts to the public past all of their noise.  Face it, if someone had PURPOSEFULLY caused a panic that killed 2000 or more, they would be headed for jail.  Purposefully causing the paranoia that turns a nearly harmless accident into thousands dead should get the same.

      the plants leaking causing the areas around plants to increase in unwanted radiation

      Meanwhile, people spent their time sunning on thorium-containing beaches, soaking in radium-rich hot springs, breathing radon-filled air and coming away rejuvenated and refreshed.  Yes, even in Japan.

      • stock October 27, 2015 at 3:38 pm

        LOL “anti nukers” should be put in jail for crimes against humanity says the promoter of radiation and heavy metals.

      • richard123456columbia October 28, 2015 at 4:19 pm

        We have known about this and many more for longer then 100 years, we know today many that occurred thousands of years ago with new geology study. These tsunamis were well known when they built these plants all around Japan.
        See tsunami at this site close to Fukushima in 1896, one of many.
        See more here.

      • richard123456columbia October 28, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        At the time the protocol for safety was to evacuate, even after Chernobyl evacuation. They now say to stay in place because it is not practical to move many people in short order, not for safety. At the time of

      • richard123456columbia October 28, 2015 at 5:27 pm

        Radon gas causes lung cancer and other lung problems, in many areas like my location use a special sealant a round basement walls were they meet the concrete floor to keep radon gas out of houses. We have many substances

      • richard123456columbia October 28, 2015 at 6:25 pm

        The plant was not designed for the fuel, if it was the dome to hold in place would not have blown as it was to hold against a explosion.

  3. Garry Morgan October 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    No false claim that Watts Bar 2 is the first new reactor of the 21st century, when in reality it is an old design began 40 years ago? No mention that the license to operate was approved by the commissioners before final testing? http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2015/may/28/nrc-authorizes-staffissue-unit-2-license/306589/

    Never mind the cost overruns, the faulty parts and whistleblowers warnings of various faults. The plant will operate, regardless of fault and the amount of jail time for previous mangers of the project, hmm?

    No mention of radiation safety and monitoring of ionizing radiation levels. Maybe that is not your first concern, money and propaganda is first in this game, ehh?

    The NRC does not consider the health of the community and the cumulative effects of radionuclide emissions on health and low level radiation risk relating to cancer when licensing a nuclear facility. A healthy community free of ionizing radiation pollutants is the least of your concerns, particularly when the DOE’s Oak Ridge Labs have dumped thousands upon thousands of pounds of radioactive uranium into the local East Tennessee environment for 70 years. What is a few more picocuries per litre of additional tritium, cobalt, strontium, iodine and other ionizing radiation pollutants in the “sacrifice zone?” health.state.tn.us/ceds/oakridge/ORHASP.pdf

    By the way, utilizing ORNL’s data in the above linked report (page 8 and the link involving death by tornado on “livescience” within this paragraph) there have been near 6000 deaths as a result of tornadoes since the beginning of the atomic age (www.livescience.com/34559-tornado-deaths-infographic.html ), there is a 1 in 500,000 risk that you will be killed by a tornado. The risk of death by cancer from radiation or chemical exposure is 1 in 10,000, Death by cancer as a result of chemical or radiation from the nuclear industry is 50 times greater. Utilizing nuclear industry data there have been in excess of 300,000 deaths from cancer as a result of the nuclear industry. East Tennessee has a high cancer incident rate according to the CDC’ National cancer Institute, so does other areas around nuclear facilities.

    It would seem the NRC’s failure to consider health of a community in its licensing process neglects people’s health and supports the nuclear industry.

    • Engineer-Poet October 23, 2015 at 12:49 am

      The NRC is obsessively concerned with public health, to the point of using a dose-response threat model (linear no-threshold) that is provably wrong and calculates increases in cancers when actual experience (including the survivors of the 1945 bombings in Japan) shows decreases from moderate doses.  Yes, the 1945 bomb survivor data shows actual improvements to health as a consequence of smaller radiation exposures.

      This insistence on over-protection decreases both worker and general health, and drives costs through the roof.  That same data proves that any deaths due to the nuclear industry are dwarfed a thousand times by the lives it has saved by displacing other polluting energy sources.

      • stock October 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm

        Your perpetual cheerleading for the nuclear industry is duly noted.

        However your comment is a king without clothes…..What was involved was “do they have a license or not”.

        Higher radiation and less supervision is the cheerleaders answer, to try to make nuclear even close to competitive with other energy sources. How sad that we have sunk so low.

      • stock October 23, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        The NRC is trying to comfort the nuke industry by throwing out LNT (admittedly a silly concept of using nuclear bombs on humans in a one time event from 1945 on one particular culture with vastly different eating habit than most of the world) and replace it with “hormesis” radiation is good for you.

        Thus denying powerful (i.e. broadbased) epidemiological studies which are showing the low dose radiation is indeed harmful in a statistically significant way. Here is one report you should read.


      • Garry Morgan October 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm

        Wrong on all counts – “Even at low and very low dose categories, the SMR-H and SMR-O were significantly high for all deaths, all cancers, solid cancers, and liver cancers in male subjects, and for uterus and liver cancers in female subjects, respectively. The results show that, if the dose estimations of the dosimetry system 1986 (DS86) are correct, there are significantly increased risks of cancer among even survivors exposed to the very low dose level.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2698250/

        You are obviously another supporter of the radiation hormesis fallacy.

      • Garry Morgan October 23, 2015 at 1:34 pm

        An additional comment on the article linked by the Engineer-Poet – Atomic Bomb Health Benefits by T. D. Luckey – To say there are health benefits from a nuclear detonation is deceitful in the least, it is a deceitful article engineered by a fanatical element within the nuclear industry – it is dangerous on many levels. If one or more who wrote the article, and those who subscribe to the notion that a nuclear detonation has positive health effects/benefits are involved in nuclear programs, they should be medically evaluated regarding suitability to remain in any nuclear program.

        The fact that Luckey is teaching this nonsense at a university is disturbing.

        Garry Morgan,
        U.S. Army Medical Department, Retired
        Former PRP Evaluator

  4. stock October 22, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    I would venture to say that your “well defined process” is suited to a brand new plant that has just been built.

    How would you compare starting up a 2015 Mustang to and 1965 Mustang that has been sitting in a barn for 40 years?

    • Engineer-Poet October 23, 2015 at 12:53 am

      How would you compare starting up a 1973 Mustang that has been meticulously maintained and upgraded during its storage?

      • stock October 23, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        The point is never started….machines like to move. Any engineer with hands on experience knows that like the back of his hand. You cannot “inspect” quality into a product.

  5. stock October 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    What does the average full time equivalent cost at the NRC per year? probably 230,000 just guessing. I mean the gross cost, not the employees wage. Budget/number of employees is a fairly good way to do this. thank you.

  6. richard123456columbia October 22, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Who pays NCR for the 200,000+ hrs of work maybe $20,000,000.00+

    • stock October 22, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Probably more like $40M to $50M

      and that is just what it costs to say yes, you have a license. it is fairly absurd.

      • Engineer-Poet October 23, 2015 at 12:56 am

        What this proves is that the NRC spends far too much time and money checking and verifying too much compared to its predecessor, the AEC.  The waste of time and money makes fossil fuels more economic in comparison, and those FFs are far more deadly than even a Fukushima-sized event per decade could be.

      • stock October 27, 2015 at 3:41 pm

        “too much time checking” and yet in 2012, 11 near misses, and more and more violations at plants, 1000 stopped for drugs and alcohol in USA in just 2014.

        We DONT need less inspection, we all encourage the NRC to keep up steady inspection, it does increase safety.

        The cost is a matter of the complexity. Make it as simple as you can BUT NO SIMPLER, a wise man once said that.

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