Report shows safety concerns at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear plant
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - New information released from the federal nuclear watchdog reveals numerous safety issues at a local nuclear power plant.
In the weeks following the earthquake and tsunami that knocked the Fukushima nuclear power plant offline and caused a catastrophic meltdown, the Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to show that its nuclear plants were safe.
The government-owned utility held a simulation for the media and government officials at Watts Bar to show they were ready should an earthquake strike.
But a Post-Fukushima evaluation of TVA's Watts Bar plant by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission reveals a number of alarming concerns.
In a glaring example, the NRC inspector noted that many of the Site Emergency Directors were not qualified as decision makers in the event of a major accident.
"During review of the SAMG [Severe Accident Management] Training program following the Japanese tsunami/earthquake, it was discovered that several of the WBN [Watts Bar Nuclear] Site Emergency Directors were not qualified SAMG Decision Maker. This qualification was implied by TRN-34, Severe Accident Management Training, and NPG-SPP-18.3.1, Severe Accident Management (SAMG) Program Administration, but not specifically required. Sufficient Decision Makers were qualified to man the Technical Support Center (TSC), however all Site Emergency Directors (SED) do not maintain this qualification (PER 342219)."
The inspector noted that eight of the 33 emergency responders for a severe incident either did not have training or had allowed their Severe Accident Management training to expire.
In the Dark
In the event of blackout at the plant, the inspector noted six areas of concern in Watts Bar' s plan to restore power.
The inspector noted diesel generators "cannot be connected to required boards in an efficient manner."
The NRC report also suggested that when the back-up generator is built for Watts Bar Unit 2, that it be moved away from the Unit 1 generator because of "flooding events that would render [Unit 1's] mobile diesel generator not usable due to its current location below Max Flood Elevation."
But the greatest concern for the inspector in the event of a blackout was Watts Bar plan to use one power plant to power the other. The inspector noted "This supply was currently not available due to design changes and modifications." The inspector said this concern "could easily … been identified as a [safety] gap."
Among the items the NRC wanted to examine in the post-Fukushima inspection was the plants ability to deal with more than one event at a time – a fire and an earthquake, or an earthquake and flood.
The inspection noted that in the event of a flood, some instructions given to plant employees suggested certain containment doors be closed, while other employees received instructions requiring doors to be closed.
Another concern for the inspectors if the plant were hit with a one-two punch, all of the firefighting equipment is stored a building that isn't earthquake-proof. The inspector says "This would leave the bulk of the site with inadequate firefighting capabilities."
At the Unit 2 facility, inspectors noted that fire hoses were concealed behind scaffolding, and couldn't be reached in the event of an emergency.
And if flooding were to occur in Watts Bar, similar to what happened at Fukushima, the inspector noted "procedures lacked robustness when coping with Internal Flooding events. The ARI for Alarm window 167-D (Turb/Aux/Rx Bldg Flooded), lacked specific guidance to properly respond to internal flooding concerns such as component cooling water or raw cooling water (RCW) pipe ruptures."
One way the Watts Bar plant could find itself in a Fukushima-like flooding event would be the destruction of one of the dams in an earthquake. The report found that Watts Bar's contingency plans for having enough water on hand to cool the super-heated nuclear material are records that dated to before the construction of the Watts Bar Dam in 1943.
The inspectors stated, "Watts Bar needed to re-validate this assumption since it had been several years since construction on the Tennessee River started."
History of Problems
This isn't the first time Watts Bar has been faced with safety concerns.
In the mid-1980s, a safety inspection of the plant found more than five thousand separate concerns and actually resulted in halting the construction of both Unit 1 and Unit 2.
Eventually, TVA was able to complete Unit 1 in 1996, at a cost of nearly $8 billion. Watts Bar Unit 1 the last nuclear power plant licensed in the United States.
In 2007, the public utility decided to complete the construction of Watts Bar Unit 2. The plant is currently scheduled to online sometime in 2012, the first nuclear power plant licensed in 16 years.