Safety Issues at Watts Bar Nuke Plant

Thursday, July 21, 2011 @ 03:07 PM gHale


There are numerous safety issues at Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar nuclear power plant.

In one case, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspector noted there were Site Emergency Directors not qualified to be decision makers in the event of a major accident.

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“During review of the SAMG [Severe Accident Management] Training program following the Japanese tsunami/earthquake, it was discovered that several of the WBN [Watts Bar Nuclear] Site Emergency Directors were not qualified SAMG Decision Maker. This qualification was implied by TRN-34, Severe Accident Management Training, and NPG-SPP-18.3.1, Severe Accident Management (SAMG) Program Administration, but not specifically required. Sufficient Decision Makers were qualified to man the Technical Support Center (TSC), however all Site Emergency Directors (SED) do not maintain this qualification (PER 342219).”

The inspector noted eight of the 33 emergency responders for a severe incident either did not have training or had allowed their Severe Accident Management training to expire.

The TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

The TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.


In the event of blackout at the plant, the inspector noted areas of concern in Watts Bar’s plan to restore power.

The inspector noted diesel generators “cannot be connected to required boards in an efficient manner.”

The NRC report also said when they build the back-up generator for Watts Bar Unit 2, they move it away from the Unit 1 generator because of “flooding events that would render [Unit 1’s] mobile diesel generator not usable due to its current location below Max Flood Elevation.”

But the greatest concern for the inspector in the event of a blackout was Watts Bar plan to use one power plant to power the other. The inspector noted “This supply was currently not available due to design changes and modifications.” The inspector said this concern “could easily … been identified as a [safety] gap.”

Among the items the NRC wanted to examine in the post-Fukushima inspection was the plant’s ability to deal with more than one event at a time – a fire and an earthquake, or an earthquake and flood.

Another concern for the inspectors if the plant suffered a one-two punch, all of the firefighting equipment is in a building that isn’t earthquake-proof. The inspector said “This would leave the bulk of the site with inadequate firefighting capabilities.”

At the Unit 2 facility, inspectors noted fire hoses were behind scaffolding, and workers could not reach them in the event of an emergency.

And if flooding were to occur in Watts Bar, similar to what happened at Fukushima, the inspector noted “procedures lacked robustness when coping with Internal Flooding events. The ARI for Alarm window 167-D (Turb/Aux/Rx Bldg Flooded), lacked specific guidance to properly respond to internal flooding concerns such as component cooling water or raw cooling water (RCW) pipe ruptures.”

One way the Watts Bar plant could find itself in a Fukushima-like flooding event would be the destruction of one of the dams in an earthquake. The report found that Watts Bar’s contingency plans for having enough water on hand to cool the super-heated nuclear material are records that dated to before the construction of the Watts Bar Dam in 1943.

The inspectors stated, “Watts Bar needed to re-validate this assumption since it had been several years since construction on the Tennessee River started.”

In 2007, the public utility should come online in 2012, the first nuclear power plant licensed in 16 years.



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