Fire in Watts Bar pump motor on Wednesday declared an emergency

Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant has become the first such plant in the U.S. to receive a license for power generation in 19 years.
photo The TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is photographed on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, near Spring City, Tenn., as Unit 2 begins producing electricity for the first time, 43 years after construction began at the site.

A small fire ignited early Wednesday in one of the pump motors for TVA's newest reactors, forcing the federal utility to declare the lowest of emergency classifications at the plant even before it has produced any power.

TVA crews were testing equipment in its Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor Wednesday when the fire was noticed at 3:42 a.m. in one of the three hotwell pump motors used in the turbine building on the non-nuclear side of the new unit. The fire was extinguished within 19 minutes, but TVA was still required to declare a "Notice of an Unusual Event" - the lowest of the four NRC emergency classifications.

The notice was exited by 5:08 a.m. after operators confirmed that all plant systems were operating as designed.

"Plant personnel extinguished the motor fire, and there was no danger to the public," TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. "Other Watts Bar Unit 2 systems were unaffected. Watts Bar Unit 1 was also unaffected and remained safely online throughout the event."

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said utilities are required to make such notifications when there is a fire in any part of a nuclear plant. NRC inspectors are still evaluating the incident, but Hopson said he did not expect the fire to set back plans to begin generating limited power at the Watts Bar Unit 2 within the next month.

"We have to complete our evaluation of what happened, but on the surface this does not appear to be something that should significantly affect the startup of this unit," Hopson said.

TVA plans to have the new reactor in full production as a commercial nuclear unit by June.

Hopson said the fire was isolated to the pump motor area and did not affect other plant equipment or have any impact on Watts Bar's other operating nuclear reactor.

Hotwell pumps are part of the unit's condenser system and help recirculate water condensed from steam after it passes through the turbines used to generate electricity. They are located on the power generation side of the plant and are not directly associated with the reactor or with the reactor cooling system.

The Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor will be the first new nuclear reactor added to America's nuclear grid since the other Watts Bar unit started up in 1996. TVA has spent more than $5 billion to build the unit through a series of starts and stops in construction since the project began in 1973.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.