Groups Challenge TVA Watts Bar 2 Reactor

Guest Blog | July 15, 2009 | Press Releases


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Christina Connally Honkonen, SACE, Communications Manager, 865.228.1567 Groups Challenge Building Second Nuclear Reactor at TVA’s Watts Bar:
Proposal places undue risk to public and environment
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 15) – Today, organizations in Tennessee filed a request to intervene in proceedings before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to protect Tennessee from further harm by the nuclear power industry. The organizations, including the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Tennessee Environmental Council, and We the People, Inc., filed a petition for intervention on behalf of their members with the NRC to stop the building of a second nuclear reactor at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar nuclear plant in Rhea County along the Tennessee River. Diane Curran of Washington, D.C., is representing the organizations.

“The community is really worried about the Tennessee River and the quality of our water resources and TVA hasn’t done anything to reassure us that they know what they’re doing,” said Ann Harris, executive director of We the People, Inc., a safety advocacy organization, and member of the Sierra Club who lives near the existing reactor. “TVA’s recent coal ash spills and now building more nuclear reactors all along the river – this insanity has got to stop.”

The petition called upon the NRC to reject building a second nuclear reactor at Watts Bar due to the projects high costs and the availability of less risky, more affordable energy alternatives. TVA has already spent $1.7 billion on the second reactor before stopping construction in 1985, after realizing it had overestimated demand for power. TVA estimates that another $2.49 billion will be required to complete the project.

“TVA keeps pushing for more nuclear reactors in spite of the massive cost overruns they always have when they build them,” said Bill Reynolds, Sierra Club member and Tennessee Chapter nuclear committee chair. “I don’t want TVA to squander any more of my money or that of all TVA ratepayers on dangerous new nuclear reactors. There are better choices to provide power.”

The organizations also raised concerns the TVA plan would have on 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. Vulnerability to the containment being able to withstand impacts from aircraft was also mentioned.

“The fundamental weakness of this reactor design is its reliance on baskets of ice to reduce temperature and pressure during an accident. It is a complicated system vulnerable to failure and the relatively weak concrete containment structure alone is no match for the typical pressures created by hydrogen gas combustion,” said Louis Zeller, Science Director with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “An otherwise controllable mishap can become a catastrophe.”

Several contentions related to environmental impacts were raised. The petition states that TVA did not fully evaluate the current conditions of the Tennessee River or the overall cumulative impact the proposed expansion at Watts Bar could have on the river basin or fishery resources. For instance, TVA failed to mention that the Tennessee River is one of the most diverse aquatic ecosystems on the continent, or 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 5 more reactors in the licensing stage.

“The Tennessee River is in dire need of increased protection, not further degradation,” said Don Safer, board chair of the Tennessee Environmental Council. “There have already been problems with overheating the river water that caused the shutdown of a Brown’s Ferry reactor at peak summer demand. In addition, there would be more highly radioactive spent fuel casks parked in flood prone areas with no credible disposal plan. We’ve had enough here in Tennessee.”

TVA is also planning to build four new nuclear reactors at the Bellefonte site near Hollywood, Alabama. Those reactors would also withdraw water from and discharge into the Tennessee River. 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. 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.

“TVA’s pursuit of another costly nuclear reactor in Tennessee is a big mistake,” added Sara Barczak, program director of high risk energy with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “What Tennessee and the entire TVA region truly needs and deserves is a future built upon safe, affordable energy such as energy efficiency and conservation, wind, solar and bioenergy.”

The petition is available at

For more information on the intervening organizations, visit:
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League,
Sierra Club,
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,
Tennessee Environmental Council,
We the People, Inc.,

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