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VOL. 124 | NO. 139 | Friday, July 17, 2009

Environmentalists Seek to Bar TVA Nuclear Reactor

DUNCAN MANSFIELD | Associated Press Writer

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Five environmental groups petitioned federal regulators Wednesday to block the only commercial nuclear reactor now under construction in the United States – an unfinished 1970s-era reactor the Tennessee Valley Authority is working to complete after three decades in mothballs.

The groups claim TVA failed to consider the impact on the Tennessee River, public health and safety and the utility's need for more electricity when it revived a 1976 application for an operating license for the Watts Bar Plant Unit 2 reactor near Spring City, Tenn.

"TVA keeps pushing for more nuclear reactors in spite of the massive cost overruns they always have when they build them," said Bill Reynolds, the nuclear committee chairman for the Sierra Club's Tennessee chapter.

"I don't want to squander any more of my money or that of all TVA ratepayers on dangerous new nuclear reactors. There are better choices to provide power," he said.

TVA, the nation's largest public utility, began a five-year, $2.5 billion effort in 2007 to complete the 1,200-megawatt Unit 2 reactor by 2012 – 16 years after finishing Watts Bar 1, the last reactor to come online in the U.S.

Though half-done when idled in 1985 and scavenged for parts since, Watts Bar 2 was viewed by TVA officials as the best option for new clean-air baseload power capable of supplying 650,000 homes.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing the Watts Bar 2's operating license, which TVA will need before the agency can plug the reactor into the TVA power grid.

The Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Tennessee Environmental Council, the Blue Ridge Environmental Council and We the People filed a 128-page petition with the NRC on Wednesday to intervene in opposition to the license.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said a three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will have to decide if the groups have standing in the case – the groups' petition names several individual members who live within 50 miles of the plant and would be directly impacted by the plant.

"Then they will have to decide what if any (petition issues) would be admitted for a formal hearing," he said.

The petition questions whether TVA has complied with all federal permits and regulations – including an interagency agreement against disturbing contaminants from the government's nuclear bomb-building operations in Oak Ridge buried in the bottom sediments of Watts Bar Lake.

The petition also questions the reactor's post-Sept. 11 ability to withstand a crash from a terrorist aircraft. It questions whether the sometimes overheated Tennessee River can support another reactor requiring water for cooling. It questions whether an agency reporting a drop in power sales this year because of the economy needs more electricity.

It asks whether the reactor's containment dome will withstand a meltdown if its tricky ice-condenser emergency cooling system fails, and whether its backup diesel generators will prevent that from happening.

"We believe the update of the operating license application submitted for Watts Bar 2 is sufficient and complete," TVA spokesman John Moulton said.

However, he added that TVA believes "public participation is an important part" of the licensing process, and the agency will "respond to each of the contentions raised" by the groups "within the period of time allotted by the NRC."

Watts Bar 2 is more than 25 percent complete, about 1,900 people are working on the project, engineering is expected to be finished by early next year and so far "we are on time and on budget," Moulton said.

TVA, which operates six reactors and is considering building up to four more in addition to Watts Bar 2, supplies electricity to about 9 million consumers through 158 distributors in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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