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Under NRC’s Watchful Eye — New Commercial Nuclear Power Plant Comes on Line

Joey Ledford
Public Affairs Officer
Region II

The nuclear power industry notched a significant milestone last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 began commercial operations. It was the nation’s first new generating unit to come on line in 20 years.

More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort for Watts Bar 2

More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort for Watts Bar 2.

Ironically, the last unit to come on line before Watts Bar Unit 2 was its sister unit, Watts Bar Unit 1, which began commercial power production in 1996.

For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it was just another day at the office – the resident inspector office at the plant near Spring City, Tenn., northeast of Chattanooga. Several months before, the NRC had begun and then completed a gradual transition from construction inspection to operational inspection.

The Watts Bar units have a unique history. Both trace their lineage to 1973. Both units had lengthy construction hiatus periods, with Unit 2’s obviously lasting quite a bit longer.

Resumption of construction at Watts Bar hit a high gear in 2008 and during the next eight years, the NRC’s Region II-based construction inspection staff, supplemented by inspectors from headquarters in Rockville, Md., logged more than 127,000 hours making sure Unit 2 was built according to its design specifications. More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort. The NRC also expended considerable inspection activity during the unit’s lengthy pre-operational testing phase.

Now, however, Watts Bar is a twin-unit operating facility. Three NRC resident inspectors currently act as the agency’s eyes and ears at the Watts Bar site as Unit 2 transitions to the agency’s baseline inspection program for operating units. It will take about a year before that process is completed.

Even though Watts Bar was designed in the 1970s, it was licensed to today’s standards, including all the updated safety enhancements required by the NRC, including post-Fukushima upgrades and cybersecurity requirements.

With the addition of Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA now has seven nuclear units operating in Alabama and Tennessee.

22 responses to “Under NRC’s Watchful Eye — New Commercial Nuclear Power Plant Comes on Line

  1. Public Pit Bull November 2, 2016 at 6:54 am

    First new nuke in 20 years yet many existing nukes have been shut down during that same period, many prematurely because they simply can’t compete economically.
    How much has the NRC staff been downsized to reflect the loss of all those plants to oversee?! The NRC really has become the “Nuclear Retirement Commission”.

  2. Garry Morgan November 2, 2016 at 3:32 am

    (Verbiage removed here by NRC Moderator to adhere to blog comment guidelines.)

    Regarding those who disagree with no TMI deaths: Increased Infant Mortality has been described in-depth by Dr. Earnest Sternglass: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/02/physicist-ernest-sternglass-dies-91 and Dr. John Gofman: https://www.orau.org/ptp/Library/oralhistories/gofman.pdf Dr. Steven Wing: https://www.unc.edu/news/archives/feb97/wing.html

    • Public Pit Bull November 2, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Yes innocent folks died at TMI as well as at Chernobyl & Fukushima. Well over 1,000 Japanese have died simply from the evacuation process during that disaster. Many of those folks were elderly &/or disabled. Some died of hopelessness as they could never return to their homes. Nuke disasters leave lasting scars on people & the environment & it is not just limited to those who actually were harmed by radiation.
      I cannot begin to imagine the adverse impact on the millions of people who would have to be evacuated in the event of an emergency around many nuke units located near large cities. Indian Point near NYC is the worst.
      It is irresponsible of the NRC to let these units continue operation let alone extend their operating licenses.

    • Engineer-Poet November 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      I note that Garry Morgan does not cite data, but links to bios instead.  Even those implicitly contradict his position.  The Sternglass bio refers to medical X-rays (prompt exposures), not the low-level, long-term exposures which would accrue to people living downwind of a nuclear accident.

      Max individual exposure from TMI was 1 mSv.  The average resident of Colorado gets about 11 mSv/yr.  If there were any—ANY—negative consequences of this, we’d see it in epidemiological data from Colorado.  Instead, Coloradans are healthier than the US average.

      The claims about Fukushima are the same.  There were more fatalities from the evacuation than the tsunami.  The obvious conclusion:  the evacuation was a mistake, people should have stayed put!

      If there was any data which actually showed that nuclear plants were dangerous to humans, the antis would cite it.  Instead, we get misdirection and innuendo.  This is proof that the anti-nuclear activists aren’t just wrong, but dead wrong.

      • Bryan Leyland November 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm

        Everyone should read “Radiation and Reason” by Prof Wade Allison. It can be found at radiationandreason.com

        He is an expert in medical radiation and testing many studies on the effects of radiation on people. He provides convincing evidence that existing radiation limits for nuclear stations could be raised by a factor of 100 – and maybe 1000 – without incurring any significant risk.

        If nuclear radiation was a significant danger to people then many people who had radiation treatment for cancer would later die of radiation induced cancer in the tissues surrounding the original cancer. They don’t. What more do you need to know?

      • Garry Morgan November 3, 2016 at 11:33 am

        The videos listed below apply to Watts Bar and every other nuclear reactor facility regarding radiation risk. Watts Bar 2 increases radiation risk to the citizens of the area surrounding Watts Bar Nuclear Facility. The BIER VII Report is referenced in the video.

        Regarding your comments, you asked for names, that is what you received with their partial bios. You state that the links listed “implicitly contradict his (my) position,” that is false.

        Your previous comments regarding radiation hormesis theory and comments regarding low level radiation effects are unproven, they are conjecture. You present them as fact, they are theory at best and there is considerable information available which contradicts radiation hormesis theory. Your statements are easily demonstrated as fallacy as demonstrated in this video regarding “Radiation Risk: LNT Model Tested” https://youtu.be/5xYRvnCBZOM

        Dr. John Gofman’s comments on low level radiation effects, he begins his discussion on the health effects of low level radiation at about 1:15 in the video, the first part of the video describes his experience and education. https://youtu.be/wf4G0NRBfqY

      • Engineer-Poet November 3, 2016 at 4:58 pm

        The videos listed below apply to Watts Bar and every other nuclear reactor facility regarding radiation risk.

        Videos?  VIDEOS?!  You don’t have a scientific paper?

        I was certain that this “video evidence” would be a poor joke, and I was right.  The first one isn’t by a scientist, or even a doctor:  it is by a photographer named Ian Goddard who certainly uses neither science nor medicine in his craft and probably has never taken any university-level coursework in either. .

        You want real video?  People sitting on the radioactive monazite beach at Guarapari get at least 53 μSv/hr.  If you lived in a building built on that sand you might only take 30 μSv/hr.  That is 260 milliSieverts per year, EVERY year; a lifetime of exposure would be over 18 Sieverts, 180 times the supposed threshold for solid cancers.  If LNT was remotely correct, Guarapari would be a cancer hotspot like few others.

        There is no such cancer cluster there.

        Or you can go to the 1958 UNSCEAR report.  There, on page 30 of the PDF (p. 156 of the original document), starting at paragraph 14 (bottom right) and continuing to the next page, it states “In a more recent experiment with Sprague-Dawley male rats exposed throughout adult life to 0.8 r/day of Co-60 gamma rays, the median survival times were as follows” with the MINIMUM lifespan increase for an exposed group some 27% over the unexposed controls.  I repeat, the gamma-irradiated rats lived MUCH LONGER than controls.  This does more than just debunk LNT, it conclusively proves radiation hormesis.

        Note, folks:  the people spreading radiation phobia have been consciously lying about the risks since no later than 1958, and probably much earlier.  Having taken such shameless advantage of you, they deserve no goodwill whatsoever.  Given the millions who’ve died from consequences of mining and burning coal long after we should have gotten rid of it, they should all be in prison.

        Moderator note: Some verbiage removed to adhere to comment guidelines

  3. Anonymous November 1, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Can you just imagine the hubris with TVA on creating the red finding in 2011 in Browns Ferry? Did Watts Bar ever learn a thing from Browns Ferry’s red finding five short years ago? There was a mountain of equipment degradation at BF under this red finding that the NRC never picked up until the post incident inspections. Now five years later, TVA set up these conditions at Watts Bar. This is big flaw with oversight. The ROP is an absolution system. The NRC deals with risk on a case by case bases. The broken RHR valve caused this much risk. But the mountain of equipment degradation and multitudes of inaccurate LERs occurring at the same time, this risk is never disclosed and known as one unit or grade. We never get a snapshot of all the risk on site caused by poor manage management, such as all the equipment degradations and NRC violations never address leading to the red finding on October 23, 2010. What was the total risk on Oct 23, 2010? We should know total risk, not just one component’s risk. We bifurcate total risk, cut it up into undistinguishable pieces, based on political campaign contributions.
    TVA should do the honorable thing like Entergy’s Grand Gulf. Watts Bar site should voluntarily shut down for a year or so. Clean out all upper management and intensely retrain their employees.
    I am telling you guys, we have no idea post-election, on the fall our with our loss of faith/trust in government and institutions, impinging on the nuclear industry this election cycle. This is really a bad time to get a big nuclear industry incident. We are in new territory never seen before!

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  4. steamshovel2002 October 31, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Basically this guy was broken before first start-up. Probably back 20 or 30 years ago. Watts Bar managers are nothing but TVA yes men. They didn’t even do a thorough check up on the feed pump before first start up after TVA abandoned the plant? What an absolute disgrace. How wide spread is this attitude of not doing equipment inspections for 20 or 30 years. I see unit 2 last night is up to 12 % power.

    You know what is professionally pathetic, they can’t even follow the paperwork back to when the fitting was installed incorrectly, which is required by the rules. One wonders how much critical safety documentation was lost during the plant’s abandonment? Don’t get me talking about the flimsy licensing. What was the date the fitting was installed incorrectly? From that date, to when it leaked, was the time this equipment was inop. Everyone just follows the rules selectively trying to keep their reputations in a shiny new condition independent of the facts.


    “Licensee Event Report 39112016-007-00, manual Reactor Trip Due to Loss
    of main Feedwater

    The cause was determined to be a human performance error during the assembly of the 2A MFP control hose connections. The hose connection was assembled incorrectly during the Nuclear Construction work to bring the 2A MFP turbine from an unused layup condition to a condition that was ready for operation as a part of WBN Unit 2 construction. This connection is not visible because it is inside the MFP turbine’s oil return system. Therefore this misconfigured connection could not have been identified by the system turnover processes. The connection also functioned correctly during Preoperational testing and for a short time during Power Ascension testing so that there were no adverse indications as precursors to the event.”

    You see these sneaky and deceptive corrupt phrases: “Therefore this misconfigured connection could not have been identified by the system turnover processes”? What is the “system turnover process? Words and language are corrupted before the equipment gets corrupted. Why didn’t TVA do a complete teardown inspection on the MFP before first start-up ???

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale NH

  5. Anonymous October 31, 2016 at 5:45 am

    congratulations to TVA and the NRC.

  6. Betsy Smith October 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    “Even though Watts Bar was designed in the 1970s, it was licensed to today’s standards, including all the updated safety enhancements required by the NRC, including post-Fukushima upgrades and cybersecurity requirements.

    Perhaps if our decades-old plant, a model substantively identical to Fukushima, had “updated safety enhancements” and “post-Fukushima upgrades and cybersecurity requirements,” those of us who live downwind of Pligrim, which is located in Plymouth, MA, would sleep better at night. Our aging plant, with frequent safety violations, is in the NRC’s lowest category. Knowing that accidents do happen, we who live on Cape Cod cannot feel safe when the NRC tells us that we should just “shelter in place.” There is no way for the majority of us to leave the Cape expeditiously should an accident occur. We wish that the NRC cared more about us, the inhabitants of the region, than they care about Entergy.

    • Engineer-Poet October 28, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Would you rather live downwind of a coal-fired plant, as so many Germans have to?

      Something your activist colleagues will not tell you is that people travel long distances to bathe in the radiation of the monazite sands of Guarapari, where they can receive 50 μSv/hr and more; they do this for their health.  You have the prospect of this, compared to a guarantee of sulfur, NOx and PM2.5 in the air you breathe.  Count your blessings.

      • Bryan Leyland November 2, 2016 at 5:06 pm

        I am hydropower engineer. The evidence says that large dams are much more dangerous than nuclear power stations – by a factor of 100 or more per GWh of electricity generated.

        In the 1970s the Chinese dam failed and killed more than 150,000 people. Not long after an Indian dam failed because of grossly negligent design instruction in the Indian government managed, almost completely, to cover the accident up. Between two and 10,000 people were killed.

        I’m doing my very best to improve the safety standards of large dams because I believe that there is a very real danger that a major dam will fail one day and drown hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions of people. If a fraction of the money that has been squandered on largely useless safety precautions following Fukushima had been spent on upgrading the safety of hydropower stations and, in particular, the spillway gates, the world would be a much safer place.

  7. steamshovel2002 October 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Gary, Yep. Lots of time they prematurely stick a plant into commercial operation to get it on the rate base. It is at 0% today…not a peep out of anyone or the news media with why it was shutdown?

    I guess clean humor isn’t allowed on a government website.

    Why doesn’t the NRC defend their honor? If you tell a lie offend enough, it turns into the truth. The pro nuke guys blames everything wrong with the nuclear industry on excessive regulation and the burdens of regulation. These guys think regulation aren’t safety related. They are government haters. What say the NRC, are excessive regulations and a intrusive inspectors causing the delays and massive plant cost increases in the new plant Vogtle or Walls Bar 2? A symptom of a captured regulator is when the agency is too timid to speak up to the gross “inaccuracies” of the regulated, the licensees blaming everything going bad at a plant or in the industry on the NRC. In other words, the NRC is too intimidated to speak truth to power, just as the Watts Bar site employees.

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  8. Engineer-Poet October 27, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Well done!  I think….

    How much of this 20-year hiatus was due to the burden of NRC regulations?

    Given that even the TMI meltdown resulted in zero public casualties, is there any basis for tightened regulations given that the defense-in-depth already in effect at that time was adequate to protect the public?

    Given that the most recent estimate of the “social cost” of carbon emissions is up to $220 per ton, how much cost can be attributed to the avoidable (but not avoided) emissions of the fossil plants which ran for those 20 years instead of WB2?

    • Garry Morgan October 28, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      The NRC discusses Defense in Depth in this publication – http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/view?AccessionNumber=ML16104A071

      There are those that would disagree regarding “TMI…zero casualties,” although that is the official line.

      To say that NRC Regulations are a burden ignores the necessity of the regulator to protect the public, as minimalistic as it may be. My problem is that the concept of safety culture is not a regulatory requirement, it is a mere policy, not enforceable. It seems executive management of nuclear facilities are not held accountable for their actions in the interface of the machine and people by the NRC, this should fall under Human Reliability. At the Watts Bar facility this problem translates to a current issue – “Chilled Work Environment.” The NRC does not frequently issue these letters. In the case of Watts Bar, it is also my observation that the emphasis to place the #2 reactor into commercial status was placed ahead of safety considerations. I would like to see what INPO had to say about this, but of course these reports are never seen by the public as they are classified as “proprietary information.”

      • Engineer-Poet October 31, 2016 at 10:12 pm

        There are those that would disagree regarding “TMI…zero casualties,”

        Then name them.

        The average radiation dose to people living within 10 miles of the plant was 0.08 millisieverts, with no more than 1 millisievert to any single individual.”  You’d get several mSv in a week-long vacation on the beach at Guarapari.  Such low, relatively steady doses are harmless at worst and probably healthful.

        To say that NRC Regulations are a burden ignores the necessity of the regulator to protect the public

        Trying to ratchet down theoretical yet demonstrably imaginary dangers, while allowing far greater ones from criteria air emissions, car-train collisions and natural gas explosions that a little extra risk of radiation exposure would slash, ought to be understood as phobic behavior.  Toronto hasn’t had a single air-pollution action day since Ontario got its reactors back on line and shut down its coal-fired plants.  If an energy regulator ignores deaths from athsma attacks to try to further cut some trivial calculated risk to plant workers, it is NOT serving the public.

        In the case of Watts Bar, it is also my observation that the emphasis to place the #2 reactor into commercial status was placed ahead of safety considerations.

        The problem with phobias is that people see things that aren’t there.  Radiation-phobes will jump on anything to try to support their predetermined conclusion.  Such people need therapy, not activism which caters to their delusions.

  9. steamshovel2002 October 27, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Its a metaphor for our troubles in Washington. We massively make rules such that it is legal for the NRC to be deceptive. We are trashing what makes society orderly. Watts Bar remains a mess. So TVA and the NRC thump their chest bagging about the first new nuclear plant since our civil war. It begins commercial operations on Oct 21, 2016 and mysteriously shuts down two days later. What is the lifetime capacity of this new plant? The whole site is still under a employee safety intimidation cloud fundimentally based on getting this dog in commercial operation. Remember their switchyard problems. Many of their nuclear safety components and commercial power components are under a darkening poor quality cloud. The NRC tells me, wait to you see their next inspection report. Its all paper whipping and a failure of the NRC to keep the industry orderly during historic financial pressures, unlike anything ever seen before.

    (Verbiage removed here by NRC moderator to adhere to comment guidelines.)

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  10. Garry Morgan October 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Then, Watts Bar 2 was taken off line on October 23, the recently started antiquated nuclear reactor has been off line since the 23rd.

    • Engineer-Poet October 27, 2016 at 11:09 pm

      Word is that one of the major switchyard transformers has issues of some kind and the plant can’t be put back on the grid until it is cleared for operation; there’s no way to get the power out.

      Nothing whatsoever to do with the nuclear side of the plant; it could happen anywhere.  Yes, even to a wind farm.

      • Garry Morgan October 28, 2016 at 12:05 pm

        How did it run for a week to receive it’s “commercial” rating, the problem had to exist prior to receiving the “commercial” rating?

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