Watts Bar Unit 2 Nuclear Reactor Shut Down

The other fission nuclear power plants should be shut down and replaced with clean renewables such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric. The risks of another Fukushima are not at all worth the energy generated. The Price-Anderson Act also means that in the U.S., the taxpayers will be forced to cover most of the costs if a nuclear power plant fails. Not only would an area be destroyed in a nuclear disaster, but the public (and not the nuclear industry that has profited) would have to pay for most of the damages. Nuclear welfare is therefore absurd, and the threat nuclear power plants continue to represent is higher than many people realize.

On March 23, 2017, after less than six months of operation, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Watts Bar 2 nuclear power unit (Watts Bar 2) was shut down. Failing components in the condenser caused America’s first 21st Century nuclear reactor to cease functioning, and as of July 3, it remains shut down.

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Watts Barr 2 has been under construction for 43 years and contains an unusual amalgamation of old and new technology. However, TVA said it carried out extensive refurbishments and upgrades to the unit, which has an estimated cost of $6.1 billion. The last new nuclear unit to come online in the U.S. was the Watts Bar Unit 1 in 1996, which returned to power production on May 9 after an 18-month maintenance outage.

According to Utility Dive, another safety concern for the Watts Bar station that may be a cofactor in the current shutdown is the high number of service interruptions coupled with safety and regulatory issues alleged by company personnel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recorded 33 allegations for TVA in 2016 — the highest in the country.

In March, 2016, the NRC found Watts Barr had a “chilled” working environment. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) hired NTD Consulting Group, a firm with nuclear industry expertise, to re-assess the situation. In April of 2017, the firm reported, “management behaviors that include harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination.”

Nuclear industry expert and former nuclear engineer, executive and whistleblower Arnie Gundersen discussed TVA’s safety failings with EnviroNews as well:

For years, the safety culture at TVA has been a threatening one for people of conscience. At one point at the TVA Bellefonte construction site, an unknown TVA employee dropped a blot on the hardhat of an NRC inspector in an attempt to injure him. The NRC should have shut the construction down, but did nothing! TVA covered up new safety culture issues at Watts Bar 2 so it could be licensed, and now suddenly thinks that a ‘timeout’ to change the safety culture will change things? [It’s] like finding your spouse has been cheating on you for 20 years and thinking a timeout will solve the problem! This timeout is too little, too late.

Gunderson, a former reactor operator himself, added, “Nuclear power plants are risky enough if people on the staff have integrity, but all is for naught with a weak safety culture.”

TVA, an enterprise owned by the federal government, stated Watts Barr 2 is designed to help “generate enough clean electricity to power 4.5 million homes.” The nuclear industry’s claims that nuclear power is safe and clean do not sit well with many environmentalists. From the infamous Three Mile Island accident of 1979, to the deadly Chernobyl disaster of 1986, to the recent 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, numerous dangers and calamities are historically tied to nuclear power. Reporter Michael Hiltzik of The LA Times wrote of the Watts Barr 2 shutdown, “With every episode like this, the industry moves one step further away from making the case for its survival.”

The EnviroNews USA Editorial Board expressed in April of 2017, that nuclear power is neither clean, safe or, as is sometimes claimed, “carbon-free.” The Board wrote that every stage of the production and cleanup of nuclear energy is costly and carries risk for contamination:

An examination of nuclear energy from point A, where the drill bit hits the ground in the initial quest for uranium, to the process of uranium enrichment and zirconium-clad fuel rod production, on to energy generation, power plant dismantlement, nuclear waste disposal and finally uranium mine remediation, nuclear power presents anything but a clean and green energy paradigm.

The issue of nuclear waste is a dangerous one for the U.S., which does not possess a functioning permanent nuclear waste storage facility. The contested and unused Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository (Yucca Mountain) has been on hold for 23 years, but the Trump Administration is now seeking to reinvigorate it. The partially constructed facility was designated without scientific vetting, and the site has since been found to be seismically active as well as positioned over an aquifer.

“Deep geologic disposal is the only alternative [for nuclear waste storage], in an area proven to be free of water,” Gundersen previously told EnviroNews. “Yucca has water seeping in, and has been proven to let waste seep out in a short period of time.”