Slim nuke danger here, but ...

Slim nuke danger here, but ...

March 24th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Since a massive earthquake and tsunami created a radiation danger at nuclear power-generating facilities in Japan, some Americans have anxiously asked whether a similar catastrophe might pose the threat of a nuclear meltdown here.

Fortunately, Tennessee Valley Authority officials do not believe there is a comparable danger at TVA's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant near Soddy-Daisy, the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., or at other nuclear facilities in our region.

To provide information, and allay any fears, TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum, joined by other officials from the public utility, came to the Times Free Press on Wednesday.

First of all, they noted, it is extremely unlikely, judging from history, that the immediate area would be hit by a quake nearly as severe as the recent one in Japan.

Even so, "What if?"

Well, in case of earthquake, any threatened nuclear generator would immediately and safely shut down, the TVA officials said.

Off-site power then would provide electricity needed to continue cooling reactors.

But if needed, multiple on-site, heavily fortified emergency diesel generators would keep the cooling water flowing.

As a subsequent backup, steam power produced by the heat of the nuclear energy itself would be used to circulate water.

Beyond that, in the very unlikely event that it were necessary, smaller, self-contained, diesel-driven cooling equipment could be employed, as could a battery-powered system that can be charged from outside sources.

Of course, all that is in addition to extensive training of TVA workers to respond nimbly in emergencies.

TVA officials pointed out that their reactors have continued to operate safely - and that nuclear power is a vital component of providing the energy we need.

They properly acknowledged, however, that there is no room to be "complacent or arrogant" when it comes to nuclear power. The stakes are simply too high. And they said they are re-examining their programs for responding to disasters - rather than waiting for regulators to make suggestions.

TVA's - and indeed our entire nation's - nuclear plants have a long and commendable record of efficient and safe operations.

It is natural that questions have arisen in response to the tragedy in Japan. But we have confidence that TVA will help keep the United States' record of safe nuclear energy production going.