Chattanooga Times Free Press: $200 million upgrade to Watts Bar ensures nuclear safety after Fukushima accident, Alexander says

Posted on October 8, 2014

SPRING CITY, Tenn. — After completing nearly $200 million of building and dam upgrades, the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant should be able to withstand any natural disaster similar to what destroyed most of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, TVA officials told U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. here today.

Alexander, one of the strongest supporters of nuclear power in the U.S. Senate, toured a new cement-walled Flex building that is the first of its kind in the United States built to withstand the worst combination of any earthquake or flood forecast for East Tennessee.

Alexander said the new structure should help assure Americans that U.S. reactors will not have a major radioactive leak like what happened in March 2011 when an earthquake triggered a Tsunami in Japan and flooded parts of the Fukushima plant.

The new Flex building here includes 10 portable pumps that would help ensure that up to 50,000 gallons of water a minute could be pumped into any damaged reactor. That would be more than enough to safely cool both reactors here if a tornado, flood or missile hit the plant and TVA was unable to get offsite power to keep water pumps functioning.

“I’m glad that TVA is moving ahead to a position to get 40 percent of its power from nuclear,” Alexander said after touring the Watts Bar plant.

Alexander said nuclear plants like the Unit 2 reactor being built at Watts Bar “are safe, cheap and reliable” and should help TVA adjust to new controls on carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants.

Mike Skaggs, the TVA senior vice president in charge of the construction of a second unit at Watts Bar, said the utility hopes to get regulatory approval for its post-Fukushima upgrades following a final inspection in January and TVA will ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an operating license for the Unit 2 reactor by next spring.

The second reactor at Watts Bar is projected to begin generating electricity by the end of 2015 at a cost of about $4.2 billion.

Alexander said that is only about half the amount being spent on other new nuclear reactors “and should help keep power rates down in the Tennessee Valley.”