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Both cooling towers are in operation at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

The Tennessee Valley Authority has retracted its emergency alert and resumed full power generation at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tennessee after determining that smoke detected Wednesday in the plant's control building was simply an overheated electrical component.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Friday that workers at the Spring City, Tennessee nuclear facility determined that there was not any fire and, after reassessing the smoke and equipment, there was no need to declare the "unusual event." TVA had declared the unusual event — the lowest level of four emergency notifications to regulators about nuclear plant problems — at 9:52 a.m. Wednesday due to the smoke detected in a battery room in the Watts Bar control building.

TVA exited the "unusual event" status by 11:26 a.m. Wednesday and Watts Bar Unit 1 resumed power generation by 5:29 p.m. Wednesday. By Friday, TVA determined that the incident did not warrant the earlier alert notice to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said such retractions of initial unusual event declarations occur a few times a year plants across the country when utilities determine such notifications were not required.

"To be clear, operators made the correct decision to declare an unusual event on Wednesday based on the data available to them at the time," Hopson said. "With the report of smoke, we must assume there is a possibility of a fire – a much more serious condition – until we can definitively determine that one does not exist. This is consistent with maintaining the highest levels of safety for the public and plant personnel."

The smoke was found shortly after the Unit 1 reactor was manually shut down Wednesday morning when a gauge indicated a lower than expected water level in one of the four steam generators at Watts Bar. TVA later determined the problem was a gauge measurement problem, not a physical problems within the steam generator.

The plant reached full power production by Friday night.

Watts Bar is the newest of TVA's three operating nuclear power plants and, when in full production, the twin-reactor facility is capable of generating 2,332 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for about 1.2 million households in the Tennessee Valley.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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