published Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant license extension in hands of judges panel

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant is being studied by the NRC for possible flooding problems.
Sequoyah Nuclear Plant is being studied by the NRC for possible flooding problems.
Photo by Allison Love.

An independent panel of judges will decide whether a local group can stop Sequoyah Nuclear Plant from operating two decades past its current license.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the Soddy-Daisy power plant, filed a request in January with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking to extend licenses for two reactors. If accepted, it would mean the reactors would run until 2040 and 2041.

In response, a group of organizations under the umbrella of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League filed a petition Monday with the NRC. The groups asked to intervene and requested a hearing on several safety and environmental concerns in hopes of stopping the license renewal.

The petition has been sent to a panel of independent judges for a possible hearing.

Sandra Kurtz, co-founder of Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, one of the three groups listed on the petition, said the group's main goal is to steer TVA away from nuclear power.

"We will be convincing TVA that they need to move on to efficiency and alternative energy and away from this old, old technology," Kurtz said.

The group alleges Sequoyah's management has not kept safety at the forefront of operations and lacks a plan to manage the plant's aging components.

In the petition, the environmental groups allege TVA has not demonstrated the effects of aging on several components, including the reactor vessel, ice condensers, heat exchangers and others. It also claims TVA has not addressed previously documented flooding risks that resulted in the plant's receiving a yellow safety flag from the NRC.

Kurtz said there were too many holes in Sequoyah's own analysis to warrant extending the plant's licenses.

"There were things missing from the environmental impact analysis. ... We're just hoping that [the panel] will accept some if not all of our contentions," Kurtz said.

The Chattanooga area, according to Kurtz, is surrounded by nuclear power plants -- with Sequoyah, Browns Ferry in North Alabama and Watts Bar in Spring City, Tenn.

"There's no safe dose of radiation. No matter how [the wind is] blowing, we here in Chattanooga are getting it from all directions," Kurtz said.

The NRC sent a notice to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on Tuesday notifying it of the petition to halt the Sequoyah license extension.

NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said the licensing board is an independent group of administrative judges which is not beholden to the nuclear commission.

Ledford said Wednesday the board's chief administrative judge, E. Roy Hawkens, will appoint a three-judge panel to review the petition and determine whether the environmental groups' concerns have merit. No hearing has been set, and the process could take months, Ledford said. If the judges agree with the petition, the license renewal will not be granted.

TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said Wednesday that public participation was part of the regulatory process, and the authority would await the decision of the judges.

In a statement Wednesday, Mansfield said, "Sequoyah plays an important role in TVA's vision to provide safe, reliable, low-cost and cleaner energy to the Tennessee Valley, and TVA will continue to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the licensing process for this valuable asset."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or lbrogdon@timesfree press.com. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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