TVA board discusses changes to nuclear reactors

TVA board discusses changes to nuclear reactors

April 15th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in Business Around the Region

An inside view of the cooling towers at the Tennessee Valley Authority's unfinished Bellefonte nuclear power plant. Staff File Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson

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TVA immediately will add satellite telephones and small portable generators at its three operating nuclear plants, and could within months strengthen power and water supplies to spent fuel pools and speed up the transfer of nuclear waste from pools to dry cask storage.

Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum told board members Thursday at a meeting in Chattanooga that reviews after the Japanese nuclear crisis confirm that the utility's six reactors and five spent fuel pools are safe.

They already had been "retrofitted with safety measures to assure defense-in-depth," he said. "But we are working to assure that we're ready for the unexpected."

TVA board Chairman Dennis Bottorff said the board has hired consultants to help assess the utility's nuclear program.

While TVA reassesses its existing plants, the board delayed a decision on whether to complete a reactor at the 30-year-old Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Hollywood, Ala.

"We continue to view nuclear power as a viable option for the future," Bottoroff said. "But we also think it's a good time to take a pause."

During the board's public listening session in Chattanooga, most of the 14 speakers asked the board to review or even phase out its commitment to nuclear power.

"The real cause of the Fukushima nuclear crisis is human error," said Sandra Kurtz, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team, referring to a Japanese decision to put diesel tanks at a level where a tsunami could wash them away. "Human error can happen here, too."

But Jackson County, Ala., Chamber of Commerce President Rick Roden and Economic Development Board President Goodrich A. "Dus" Rogers urged TVA directors to finish the long-delayed Bellefonte reactor.

"We trust TVA to do the right thing," Roden said. "Take what you learned from Japan to make Bellefonte the most reliable and safe plant in our backyard."

Lessons learned

Shortly after a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami triggered the Japan crisis, TVA established a centralized response center to monitor conditions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and coordinate with the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

Since then, TVA has reviewed local plant requirements and response plans to a slate of disasters, single or multiple.

One example would be damage from a tornado or earthquake combined with flooding from a dam failure, with emergencies involving one or more reactor.

That look prompted a 90-day plan to add satellite phones and portable generators. It also has prompted a recommendation for the following changes within 12 months:

• Move additional nuclear fuel from spent-fuel pools into dry cask storage

• Harden cooling-water supply pipes to spent-fuel pools

• Add a fifth generator for backup power at Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants.

• Harden electrical switchyards to better withstand seismic impacts.