New U.S. Nuclear Plant, Watts Bar Unit 2 Is One Step Closer to Startup

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspectors reported that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s performance during a recent assessment conducted at Watts Bar Unit 2 indicated that the plant is ready to startup and conduct power operations.

The news was conveyed at a public meeting hosted by the NRC on July 27 in Athens, Tenn., to review results of the operational readiness assessment team inspection that concluded last month. Although preliminary, the results are encouraging. The milestone is one more step forward for the project, which was started in 1973 but was suspended for more than 20 years following the Three Mile Island accident.

“The team did an intrusive and in-depth look at the various areas of Tennessee Valley Authority’s organization and we assessed that Watts Bar is ready for two unit operations,” said Greg Werner, engineering branch chief for NRC Region IV and team leader of the inspection. “Overall, the team did not see anything that would call into question the ability to safely operate and integrate Unit 2 into the operating unit.”

Werner noted that Watts Bar had sufficient staffing, good training, relatively low maintenance backlogs, an appropriately safety-conscious work environment, and a questioning attitude prevailed among personnel. In addition, procedures, processes, and people were in place to control the final stages of construction, startup, testing, and turnover of systems to operations.

The team spent approximately 850 hours on preparation and direct inspection activities. Although no violations or findings were identified, one performance deficiency was noted.

The deficiency was associated with an inadequate procedure for filling the component cooling water surge tank from essential raw water cooling. Because the problem was related to both units, it was turned over to the Unit 1 resident inspector for disposition.

The team mentioned several positive observations. Werner said the material condition of systems inspected, which included the auxiliary feedwater system, containment spray system, and component cooling water system, was “extremely good.” He also noted that the plant “looked very good.”

Not everything was up to standards however. The team observed a lack of detail in “apparent cause packages” (a program designed to track the implementation of corrective actions). Werner said that information was available in the packages, but it was not put into the system so a person could easily access it to verify that all actions had been completed.

Inadequate housekeeping in common areas was also mentioned. Werner said construction material was not properly cleaned up in at least one instance. He also noted that the team identified a scaffold that was found partially blocking a fire protection sprinkler head, and some incomplete flooding and fire barriers. Corrective actions were taken once deficiencies were identified.

POWER requested a detailed schedule or timeline for completion of remaining items to bring Watts Bar Unit 2 into commercial operation, but one was not immediately available. It was suggested that many variables exist and that it will essentially “take what it takes.”

Eric Patterson, senior resident inspector for Watts Bar Unit 2, said that hot functional testing is currently in progress. He also noted that 500 of the 559 construction items identified for completion have been completed and that a significant percentage of inspections have been done on the remaining items.

Once the construction inspection phase is finished, preoperational inspections will begin. Assuming a license is granted, fuel will be loaded and then power operation inspections will be performed. Past estimates suggested that the unit would enter commercial operation by the end of 2015 and nothing presented during the meeting indicated that the goal was unattainable.

“The operational readiness assessment team inspection is an important milestone in our construction inspection program, and so, completing that inspection, sharing these findings with you, and issuing the report is a significant activity,” said Laura Dudes, deputy regional administrator for construction in the NRC’s Region II office.

“That being said, there’s still more to do and the highest levels of NRC management continue to share key messages with both license reviewers and inspectors that they need to focus on safety. They need to focus on quality. They need to get it right the first time,” she added.

For more on Watts Bar Unit 2, see “Watts Bar Unit 2: A ‘Deferred Nuclear Plant’ Gets Back into the Game” in the June 2015 issue of POWER and “First New Nuclear Unit in U.S. in Nearly 20 Years Is on Track to Begin Operating in 2015.”

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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