TVA seeks final check on Browns Ferry unit
Nuclear panel review
required to restart reactor
By Duncan Mansfield
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Authority on Thursday told federal regulators it is ready for a final inspection before returning its oldest nuclear reactor to service after a five-year, $1.8 billion restoration.
TVA asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to send its “operational readiness assessment team” to the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens to evaluate the Unit 1 reactor.
The reactor is scheduled to power up in May after a nearly 22-year shutdown.
“It is kind of the last significant test,” TVA spokesman John Moulton said. “It is basically telling the NRC, ‘Bring your team in and confirm that this plant’s ready to operate again as a three-unit plant.’ ”
Unit 3 would be the first “new” nuclear power capacity in the United States in the 21st century. The country’s last new plant was TVA’s Watts Bar station, opened in 1996.
All three Browns Ferry reactors were idled in 1985 over management and operational concerns. Units 2 and 3 returned to service in 1991 and 1995, respectively.
“It’s important to show that we have the ability to operate and maintain all three units at Browns Ferry along with demonstrating that work to restart Unit 1 has been done well,” said Ashok Bhatnagar, TVA’s senior vice president for nuclear services.
The NRC review, required for new plants and those restarting after an extended outage, will evaluate Browns Ferry’s management oversight, corrective action programs and safety processes.
TVA spent more than 15 million work hours modifying, refurbishing or replacing Browns Ferry Unit 1 systems and components. The agency also conducted more than 1,200 safety tests.
Moulton said TVA expects to remain on schedule with the Unit 1 recovery, depending “on what the NRC team tells us we need to do” after the inspection.
Browns Ferry Unit 1 began commercial operation in 1974 and made international news a year later when a worker using a candle to check for air leaks started a fire that disabled safety systems throughout the plant. It was the worst commercial reactor accident in the United States prior to the Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979.
However, TVA, the country’s largest public utility, has new hope for nuclear as a cleaner energy source than coal-fired power plants at a time of rising demand for electricity.
Browns Ferry Unit 1 will be able to generate more than 1,155 megawatts, enough power to supply 650,000 homes.
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