Public comment time on Watts Bar reactor extended

Public comment time on Watts Bar reactor extended

December 28th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the public comment period on its preliminary finding that there are no environmental impacts to stop an operating license for the under-construction Watts Bar 2 reactor near Spring City, Tenn.

To comment

Include Docket ID NRC-2008-0369 in the subject line, and submit by Jan. 24:

* Online at www.regulations.gov and search for documents filed under Docket ID NRC-2008-0369

* By mail c/o Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements, and Directives Branch (RADB), Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001

* Via fax at RADB at 301-492-3446

Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The comment period was to end Tuesday but has been extended to Jan. 24, according to a notice posted Friday in the Federal Register.

NRC officials said the comment period was extended after more than one person at two public meetings on Dec. 8 complained about the comment period being set over Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time when the public is preoccupied with the holiday season.

"During these meetings a group of concerned citizens made short presentations, asked questions and provided comments, with several individuals requesting that the NRC grant an extension to the 45-day comment period," states the notice in the Federal Register.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the extension was not out of the ordinary.

"We were asked by people at that meeting and elsewhere to extend it," he said. "It's not unprecedented."

Since the meetings, TVA, which owns the Watts Bar plant, also was notified that security problems at the plant have prompted an NRC "white" safety finding. Under NRC's color-coded inspection findings, a plant operating with no safety problems is coded as green. A white finding is the least serious safety finding, then yellow, then red.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's original environmental impact statement on the reactor's construction was done more than 30 years ago, in 1978. But TVA halted construction of the Unit 2 reactor in 1985.

In the past year, both TVA and the NRC have written supplemental reports to the original impact statement. The combined report ends with this NRC statement:

"The NRC staff concludes that impacts associated with the operation of [Watts Bar] Unit 2 on ground water quality, public services, noise, socioeconomic transportation, cultural and historical resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and severe accidents would be small" and "would not result in a disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effect."

The $2.5 billion Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, originally scheduled to be completed in 2012, is behind schedule and over budget. It now is projected to be operational in 2013.

Just days before Christmas, TVA acknowledged that Watts Bar was given a "white" safety finding by NRC inspectors in September and notified in mid-December. TVA spokesman Ray Golden said NRC found an equipment issue associated with the nuclear security division at the plant, not with the plant's operation.

Earlier this year, two TVA contract inspectors were charged federally with falsifying safety inspections for electrical cables that control the reactors' cooling systems.

All three of TVA's nuclear plants now have color-coded safety flags from NRC and each increasing level calls for more NRC oversight.

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy also has a white flag for having four unplanned shutdowns in less than a year. The plant since has had a fifth unplanned shutdown, known as a scram.

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens, Ala., is under a red finding -- the highest safety-concern flag -- after NRC and TVA determined the plant may have operated for more than a year with an inoperable cooling system valve.

In the December meeting about Watts Bar's new reactor, Kathryn Ferris, a retired college professor, told the NRC she was concerned about water quality because of tritium leaks into groundwater at Watts Bar, which NRC acknowledged in its draft report.

She also took NRC and TVA to task for scheduling the public hearing and comment period during the holidays when many people are typically rushed and preoccupied.

"Of course, you probably know that," she said.

Ferris could not be reached for comment Tuesday.