NRC rejects petition by SACE to reopen Watts Bar 2 case

The members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officially voted Sept. 24 to reject a petition filed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) to reopen the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) license case for Watts Bar 2.

In May, the NRC had delegated authority to the head of its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) issue a full power operating license for the Watts Bar 2 unit. SACE had petitioned NRC to reopen a case involving the operating license for Watts Bar 2.

TVA hopes to load fuel and commence commercial operation of the roughly 1,100-MW pressurized water reactor (PWR) by the end of the year, although commercial operation could come as late as June 2016.

“The outcome of the SACE petition allows TVA to continue our focus on completing Unit 2 with safety and quality to ensure excellence in operations,” a TVA spokesperson told GenerationHub. “Progress remains on track with the ranges developed in 2012, which includes commercial operations by June 2016,” the spokesperson said.

A SACE official criticized the NRC action.

“We are extremely disappointed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’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,” Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with SACE.

“Today’s decision now allows the NRC technical staff to postpone that review until after Watts Bar Unit 2 begins operating, which could happen within the next couple months,” Barczak said.

After letting the unfinished reactor sit for years, TVA decided in 2007 to complete the unit.

Laura Dudes, a senior manager in NRC Region 2, told the commissioners Sept. 24 that she didn’t currently see any “high level” issues that would seriously slow down the licensing process.

Dudes, who is the deputy regional administrator for construction in the agency’s Region II office in Atlanta, said NRC is currently going through a “punch list” of considerations before TVA is given authority to start up Watts Bar 2.  “There are a couple of functionality tests we need to see … We actually have nine inspectors out there this week,” Dudes said.

If TVA is issued the license, Watts Bar 2 will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to start operating since 1996, when Watts Bar 1 came online. The Watts Bar station is located near Spring City, Tenn.

If NRC concludes Unit 2 is safe and ready to receive a license, TVA will still have to successfully complete several tests, including running the reactor at gradually increasing power levels, before the reactor can provide electricity to the grid, NRC said in a June blog post.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.