SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Group Appeals Denial of Hearing in Licensing of TVA’s Watts Bar Reactor


Lessons learned from Fukushima continue to be ignored

Contact: Jennifer Rennicks, SACE,, 865-235-1448


Knoxville, Tn. (May 20, 2015) ///PRESS RELEASE/// The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) petitioned the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review a recent decision by an NRC licensing board that paved the way for the licensing of a second nuclear reactor at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar nuclear plant along the Tennessee River in Rhea County. SACE argued that the licensing board violated the Atomic Energy Act when it refused to grant SACE a hearing on its contention that the NRC’s operating license review for Watts Bar Unit 2 should have covered updated information about seismic risks to the reactor’s safety equipment. While post-Fukushima investigations show that the Watts Bar site is subject to greater earthquake risks than it is designed to withstand*, the NRC has postponed its analysis of the issue until after the reactor is licensed, which could occur this July.

“We are extremely disappointed with the licensing board’s decision. Now that we know that Watts Bar Unit 2 was not designed adequately to withstand earthquakes and floods in light of the post-Fukushima analysis, the NRC should make it a top priority to ensure that safety equipment is protected in the event of reasonably foreseeable severe earthquakes. Instead, the licensing board allowed the NRC technical staff to postpone that review until after Watts Bar Unit 2 begins operating,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with SACE. “Why is a reactor that has been under construction since the early 1970s being rushed through the licensing process now? We appeal to the NRC Commissioners to ensure that the licensing process is conducted properly—these are serious safety issues that should not be overlooked or addressed after-the-fact and outside of public scrutiny.”

Diane Curran, SACE’s attorney, stated, “By postponing its post-Fukushima safety review until after Watts Bar Unit 2 is licensed, the NRC fails to provide the public with the reasonable level of safety protection that is guaranteed by the Atomic Energy Act. By postponing the post-Fukushima safety review, the NRC also would evade the public accountability provided by licensing hearings. We hope that the Commissioners will reverse the licensing board’s decision and grant us the public hearing required by the Atomic Energy Act.”

Additional Information:

Find TVA’s response to SACE here, the NRC staff’s response here and SACE’s final response filed in mid-March along with the corresponding press release. Information on the NRC’s licensing process is here and TVA’s information on Watts Bar 2 is here.

* The NRC put Watts Bar 1 and 2 in “Group 1,” reactors with the greatest earthquake vulnerability and therefore the highest priority for completing seismic risk evaluations. Watts Bar had to follow the NRC’s “Expedited Approach” which is described as “A near-term licensee evaluation to be completed by December 31, 2014, for CEUS [central and eastern United States] plants whose re-evaluated hazard exceeds the current design basis for the safe shutdown earthquake hazard level.” See the May 9, 2014 Letter from NRC to All Power Reactor Licensees and Holders of Construction Permits in Active or Deferred Status on the Enclosed List re: Screening and Prioritization Results Regarding Information Pursuant to Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations 50.54(f) Regarding Seismic Hazard Re-Evaluations for Recommendation 2.1 of the Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights From the Fukushima Daiichi Accident.



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