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TVA Wants Green Light for Nuclear Plant

September 11, 1995

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ The Tennessee Valley Authority asked federal regulators Monday to clear the way for licensing the only remaining nuclear power plant being built in the United States.

But Shirley Ann Jackson, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, cautioned TVA executives after a two-hour meeting to ``take a conservative approach″ to preparing the Watts Bar Unit 1 reactor near Spring City, Tenn., for low-power operation, perhaps later this year.

The NRC licensing staff told the commission it found nothing dramatic that might block approval of an operating license for the TVA reactor. But, added William T. Russell, NRC licensing director, ``There is quite a bit of work still to be done.″

He noted concern about the plant’s fire protection program, problems with leaking valves, questions about the adequacy of parts of the reactor design in seismic tests, incomplete radiation monitoring systems, and a need to reduce a backlog in maintenance work.

Addressing the commissioners after TVA’s hourlong presentation, Stewart Ebneter, a regional NRC commissioner, agreed that the plant is not yet ready for license approval. ``TVA painted a rosy picture,″ he said.

Nevertheless, NRC staff and utility executives both expressed optimism that the remaining concerns can be resolved and that Watts Bar, which has been awaiting an operating license for 23 years, will shortly be cleared for loading nuclear fuel and undergo low-power tests.

A full-power license likely would follow early next year.

``We’re going to do everything we can to finish and be ready,″ TVA Chairman Craven Crowell said in an interview after the meeting. He said the utility is certain the NRC’s remaining concerns can be addressed.

``We’re in full agreement we’ve been working with them. There were no surprises. We’re very pleased with the (NRC staff’s) report,″ added Oliver Kingsley, the utility’s chief nuclear officer. He said the key is that the utility and NRC staff agree on what issues need to be resolved.

The reactor, which has been under construction and awaiting a license since 1973, is the only new nuclear reactor under construction in the United States. The last new nuclear plant to receive an NRC operating license was the Comanche Peak reactors in Texas in April, 1993.

Last December, the TVA, which once envisioned a system of 17 nuclear reactors providing electricity, announced it would not finish three other partially completed reactors and might close a third. It canceled eight reactors in the mid-1980s. The TVA hopes to resume operation of still another reactor _ Browns Ferry Unit III _ sometime next year and has three reactors in operation.

Watts Bar Unit 1 was almost completed in 1985, but couldn’t obtain an operating license because of design problems and other safety concerns. The utility later acknowledged numerous safety and design flaws and has worked to correct them at the 1,270-megawatt reactor located on the Tennessee River.

The cost of the until has been estimated at $6.8 billion.

Kingsley acknowledged during his briefing to the commission Monday ``management failures and management breakdowns″ during construction of the Watts Bar reactor. But he added, ``we have made major changes in the way we do business ... . We have a great deal of confidence that Watts Bar is ready.″

TVA is the largest public power wholesaler in the country and provides electricity to 160 municipal and cooperative utilities serving 8 million people in Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky.

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