Fire at Watts Bar Unit 2 trig­gers emer­gency event

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - BREAKING NEWS: 423-757-NEWS - BY DAVE FLESSNER STAFF WRITER Con­tact Dave Flessner at df­less­[email protected] or at 423-757-6340.

A small fire ig­nited early Wed­nes­day in one of the pump mo­tors for TVA’s new­est re­ac­tors, forc­ing the fed­eral util­ity to de­clare the low­est of emer­gency clas­si­fi­ca­tions at the plant even be­fore it has pro­duced any power.

TVA crews were test­ing equip­ment in its Watts Bar Unit 2 re­ac­tor Wed­nes­day when the fire was no­ticed at 3:42 a.m. in one of the three hot-well pump mo­tors used in the tur­bine build­ing on the non-nu­clear side of the new unit. The fire was ex­tin­guished within 19 min­utes, but TVA was still re­quired to de­clare a “No­tice of an Un­usual Event” — the low­est of the four NRC emer­gency clas­si­fi­ca­tions.

The no­tice was ex­ited by 5:08 a.m. af­ter oper­a­tors con­firmed that all plant sys­tems were op­er­at­ing as de­signed.

“Plant per­son­nel ex­tin­guished the mo­tor fire, and there was no dan­ger to the pub­lic,” TVA spokesman Jim Hop­son said. “Other Watts Bar Unit 2 sys­tems were un­af­fected. Watts Bar Unit 1 was also un­af­fected and re­mained safely on­line through­out the event.”

Joey Led­ford, a spokesman for the U.S. Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, said util­i­ties are re­quired to make such no­ti­fi­ca­tions when there is a fire in any part of a nu­clear plant. NRC in­spec­tors are still eval­u­at­ing the in­ci­dent, but Hop­son said he did not ex­pect the fire to set back plans to be­gin gen­er­at­ing lim­ited power at the Watts Bar Unit 2 within the next month.

“We have to com­plete our eval­u­a­tion of what hap­pened, but on the sur­face this does not ap­pear to be some­thing that should sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the startup of this unit,” Hop­son said.

TVA plans to have the new re­ac­tor in full pro­duc­tion as a com­mer­cial nu­clear unit by June.

Hop­son said the fire was iso­lated to the pump mo­tor area and did not af­fect other plant equip­ment or have any im­pact on Watts Bar’s other op­er­at­ing nu­clear re­ac­tor.

Hotwell pumps are part of the unit’s con­denser sys­tem and help re­cir­cu­late wa­ter con­densed from steam af­ter it passes through the tur­bines used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity. They are lo­cated on the power gen­er­a­tion side of the plant and are not di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with the re­ac­tor or with the re­ac­tor cool­ing sys­tem.

The Watts Bar Unit 2 re­ac­tor will be the first new nu­clear re­ac­tor added to Amer­ica’s nu­clear grid since the other Watts Bar unit started up in 1996. TVA has spent more than $ 5 bil­lion to build the unit through a se­ries of starts and stops in con­struc­tion since the pro­ject be­gan in 1973.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY JOHN RAWLSTON

The TVA Watts Bar Nu­clear Plant is pho­tographed on Oct. 22, 2015, near Spring City, Tenn., as Unit 2 be­gins pro­duc­ing elec­tric­ity for the first time, 43 years af­ter con­struc­tion be­gan at the site.

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