NRC says no environmental risk from extension of Sequoyah plant

NRC says no environmental risk from extension of Sequoyah plant

March 21st, 2015 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Sequoyah Nuclear Plant

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

“The NRC side stepped most of the complaints that we raised."”
Louis Zeller, executive director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

Federal regulators have concluded that the Tennessee Valley Authority can operate its Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant until 2041 without any environmental risk to the public.

In its final environmental assessment of the twin-reactor plant near Soddy-Daisy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said Friday that there would be no adverse environmental impact from extending the operating license at Sequoyah another 20 years.

TVA, which gained its original license for Sequoyah Unit 1 in 1980 and Sequoyah Unit 2 a year later, is seeking the 20-year extension to prolong the operating benefits of the two 1,148-megawatt reactors.Each of the Sequoyah reactors is capable of supplying the electricity demands of two cities the size of Chattanooga.

TVA submitted its request for a license extension for Sequoyah in January 2013 and the NRC has spent the past two years reviewing the filing and objections to the prolonged life of the nuclear plant.

"The NRC's recommendation is that the adverse environmental impacts of license renewal for Sequoyah are not great enough to deny the option of license renewal for energy-planning decision makers," the NRC staff concluded in a 517-page, final environmental assessment of the license extension request.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League challenged the license extension, claiming that TVA had not adequately addressed flooding and earthquake risks exposed by the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. The anti-nuclear group also said TVA has yet to solve where is will store radioactive wastes for the long term.

TVA is storing its nuclear wastes from Sequoyah on site in concrete silos, but the NRC is supposed to come up with a plan for long-term storage or disposal of the wastes at a permanent repository.

"The NRC side stepped most of the complaints that we raised," said Louis Zeller, executive director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. "The waste confidence ruling is a major issue that Sequoyah never dealt with because we still don't an adequate way to dispose of these high-level radioactive wastes. We shouldn't keep producing toxic substances that we don't know what to do with."

Sandra Kurtz, an environmental educator for the Sierra Club who opposes nuclear power, also questions the long-term reliability of nuclear power plants.

"I don't think they can guarantee safety in a plant that old, given that they can't inspect and check all of the old equipment," she said.

But TVA and NRC officials said plant operators constantly monitor the performance of the reactors and TVA has replaced the steam generators and other equipment at Sequoyah, as needed.

The NRC is expected to vote later this year to extend the license at Sequoyah. Regulators have already granted 20-year license extensions for 77 other U.S. reactors, according to NRC spokesman Dave McIntrye.

The NRC has already granted TVA a 20-year extension of the operating license at its three-reactor Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama and TVA plans to also ask for a similar 20-year extension of the operating license at its Watts Bar plant.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.


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