Citizens raise alarm about TVA’s Watts Bar reactor

Guest Blog | October 6, 2009 | Press Releases

SWEETWATER, Tenn.—-Today the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) heard from concerned citizens and organizations about the risks associated with building a second nuclear reactor at TVA’s Watts Bar nuclear plant along the Tennessee River in Rhea County, about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The NRC held two public meetings in
Sweetwater to discuss the agency’s review of TVA’s licensing application.

“TVA’s claims to have learned the lessons of the Kingston coal ash disaster are brought into question by their ongoing push to finish the flawed ice condenser design of the Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor,” said Don Safer, Chairman of the Board of the Tennessee Environmental
Council. “The same misguided priorities are at work: compromising public safety and increasing environmental risk with narrow, business-as-usual thinking dominated by protecting the short term bottom line.”

“I think TVA is a little off its rocker, proposing a 30-year old nuclear power plant design with known safety problems. This doesn’t instill much confidence that the utility knows what it’s doing,” said Dr. Ross McCluney, a research physicist, a Chattanooga resident, and member of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, who traveled to the meeting. “Energy efficiency plus renewable power are the best ways to meet projected electric needs affordably and safely and without producing more radioactive waste.”

Others at the meeting commented as well on the safety concerns with this type of reactor design at Watts Bar, commonly referred to as having “eggshell-like” containment.

“The ice condenser system relies on baskets of ice to reduce heat and pressure in the event of an accident inside the containment building,” said Louis Zeller, Science Director with the
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. He continued, “According to the NRC, ice condenser plants are one hundred times more vulnerable to early containment failure than other types of pressurized water reactors.”

Negative impacts to the Tennessee River were mentioned frequently at the meetings on
Tuesday. Citizens asked that the NRC fully study the overall cumulative impact two operating reactors at Watts Bar could have on the river basin and fishery resources. Others highlighted how imperiled the river is from years of exposure to environmental stressors such as construction and operation of 47 water impoundments, 10 fossil fuel-burning plants, and 6 current nuclear reactors with more reactors in the licensing stage.

“Sierra Club is very concerned about these additional impacts of another nuclear reactor on the Tennessee River and aquatic life,” stated Brian Paddock. “We will continue to gather information to present in the future to educate citizens,” he added.

The poor economics of new nuclear reactors was also mentioned, especially in terms of the slump in the economy and the difficulty people are having with escalating electric bills. TVA already spent $1.7 billion on the second reactor before stopping construction in 1985 after realizing it had overestimated demand for power. TVA estimates another $2.49 billion will be required to complete the Watts Bar project.

“It seems TVA is just repeating its many costly mistakes from the past that we’ll once again end up paying for just like we will be paying for the fly ash spill. But this time they have no excuse to go down the nuclear road when there are so many more energy options available today than decades ago,” said Bill Reynolds, Sierra Club member and Tennessee Chapter nuclear committee chair.

Concerns about completing the new reactor at Watts Bar were raised earlier this summer when several organizations in Tennessee filed a petition for intervention with the NRC on behalf of their members to stop the building of the second nuclear reactor. Those groups include the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Sierra Club, Southern
Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Tennessee Environmental Council, and We the People,
Inc. Many representatives of those groups attended the NRC meetings on Tuesday. The organizations believe future energy demand in Tennessee and across the region should instead be met by aggressive energy efficiency and conservation measures and renewable energy. They argue that these measures pose less risk to communities, and offer substantial and sustainable economic growth, all while playing an important role in reducing global warming pollution.

For more information on the NRC’s licensing process, visit For more information on TVA’s plan to complete and operate a second nuclear reactor at Watts Bar, visit For more information on the challenge to prevent building a second reactor at Watts Bar, view “Associated Testimonies” at . # # # #