SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Group Challenges Licensing of Second Reactor at TVA’s Watts Bar:
Claim lessons learned from Fukushima ignored
Jennifer Rennicks, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 865-235-1448
Knoxville, Tenn. (March 11, 2015) ///PRESS RELEASE/// – Yesterday, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) filed their final reply with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over a post-Fukushima safety issue that could affect the licensing of a second nuclear reactor at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar nuclear plant in Rhea County along the Tennessee River. The organization believes that the NRC Staff has disregarded the NRC’s Fukushima Task Force recommendation to ensure that the Watts Bar reactor Unit 2 operating license decision takes into account updated information about seismic and flooding risks. While post-Fukushima investigations show that the Watts Bar site is subject to greater earthquake and flooding risks than it is designed to withstand, the NRC has postponed its analysis of these issues until after the reactor is licensed.
In February the group filed a new contention, which asserts that TVA’s Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR) for the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor is deficient since new information related to the fact that the earthquake risk is now greater than what the reactor was originally designed to withstand was not included in the FSAR. SACE contends that TVA should have submitted the information to the NRC Staff as part of its operating license application in order for them to properly review the information to determine whether the reactor can safely operate for its 40-year license term.
“It shocks the conscience that the NRC is preparing to issue an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2 potentially this June without completing its post-Fukushima review of seismic and flooding risk—in spite of the fact that the NRC already has information showing that the seismic risk to the Watts Bar site is significantly higher than the reactor was designed to withstand,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with SACE. “This reactor has been under construction since the early 1970s. There is absolutely no reason to rush the licensing process now. The NRC must ensure that the licensing process is conducted properly—these are serious safety issues that should not be overlooked or addressed after-the-fact.”
SACE had corresponded with the NRC regarding the Fukushima recommendation and Watts Bar 2 prior to filing the new contention, but failed to receive satisfactory responses. In June 2014, SACE’s counsel wrote to then-NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane to express the organization’s concern that TVA was conducting its post-Fukushima seismic and flooding reviews apart from the licensing process and did not intend to complete those reviews until after the operating license proceeding had concluded.
In November, William M. Dean, NRC’s Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation responded that for purposes of licensing Watts Bar reactor Unit 2, the NRC is considering “the current design-basis hazards of record” – i.e., the earthquake and flood risks that formed the basis for Watts Bar’s construction permit in the 1970s. Mr. Dean assured SACE that the NRC would not license the reactor if it could not be operated safely under the 1970s design basis conditions. He also said that the NRC would need “several years” to complete the post-Fukushima evaluations and that when they were finished, the NRC would determine “if safe operation requires additional regulatory action.” In the meantime, he noted that the Fukushima Task Force had already concluded that “continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety.”
SACE is concerned that the impetus for this delay may be to avoid imposing upgrades on the already-operating Watts Bar Unit 1 reactor, which is being allowed to operate under the standard that it poses no “imminent hazard” to public health and safety. But that is a weaker standard than the standard that the Atomic Energy Act requires for operating license applications. The licensing standard is “reasonable assurance of adequate protection.” In other words, just because an operating reactor is safe enough to operate tomorrow without changing the equipment or design does not mean a proposed reactor should be allowed to operate for 40 years. The organization’s filing raised concerns about public health and safety given the vulnerable reactor design being pursued. Both the existing and proposed nuclear reactors at Watts Bar are ice condenser reactors. This type of reactor, commonly referred to as having “eggshell-like” containment, is considered to have serious design flaws.
“The NRC has postponed indefinitely the question of whether Watts Bar reactor Unit 2’s licensing basis should be strengthened in order to provide adequate protection to public health and safety,” said attorney Diane Curran representing SACE. “But that determination should be made now, during the licensing process when TVA bears a statutory burden to ensure the protection of public health and safety. After licensing, the NRC and the public will bear the burden of justifying design and/or equipment changes.”
Find TVA’s reply to SACE here and the NRC staff’s reply here. TVA’s Expedited Seismic Report to the NRC for Watts Bar 2 can be found here (this provided the new information upon with SACE’s contention is based). For information on the NRC’s licensing process, go to: http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/wb/watts-bar.html.
TVA’s information on Watts Bar 2 is here. Relevant SACE blogs: http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2014/12/05/tvas-watts-bar-the-last-old-reactor-of-the-20th-century/ and http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2012/05/02/just-another-two-billion-dollars-between-friends/.
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.