Last week, with significant fanfare, the Tennessee Valley Authority announced that Watts Bar Unit 2 had begun commercial operation. It had completed a 20 day reliability run following the completion of power accession testing.
That October 19th declaration changed the status of the reactor from a capital construction project to a working asset. That status change has an impact on accounting, revenue and rate calculations.
On Saturday, October 22, Watts Bar 2, the newest reactor in the US operating fleet, was shut down and remains in that condition today – 5 days later.
No information about the shutdown has appeared in any of my normal news feeds. Yesterday, I recieved a comment from Erica Gray, a well-know antinuclear activist from Virginia, on my Forbes.com blog post about the Watts Bar 2 capital construction project completion.
She noted that the NRC reactor status reports were showing a 0 for Watts Bar, saying she’s lost count of the number of times that has happened already.
I contacted Jim Hopson, the Manager of Public Relations at TVA to find out why the plant wasn’t operating. Here is his explanation.
On Saturday, October 22, operators at TVA¹s Watts Bar station took Unit 2 offline to conduct a precautionary inspection of one of the main bank transformers in the station¹s switchyard.
The affected transformer is associated with Unit 2¹s electrical output and does not impact nuclear or public safety. The current transformer issue is not related to a transformer fire that occurred on August 30.
TVA is conducting a thorough evaluation of the transformer in order to ensure ongoing safe operation prior to restarting Unit 2. Unit 1 was unaffected and continues to operate at 100 percent power.
I reminded Mr. Hopson that he had informed me that the recovery process from the August 30 fire had included a thorough inspection of all of the components that might have been affected by that fire. I asked if the transformer of current concern had been inspected.
Hopson told me that the transformer of concern on Oct 22 was close to where the Aug 30 fire had occurred and that it had been inspected during the recovery effort. At the time, there had not been any damage detected. He concluded with the following statement.
At this point, there is no evidence that the current transformer issue is related to the August 30 fire, however we are continuing our investigation.
The nuclear industry must learn that it needs to do a better job of helping people understand its value. That also means that it should be the first to begin explaining its inevitable challenges.
No power source or machine is perfect. It isn’t a secret that the nuclear power industry has well-trained, experienced opponents eager to jump on any mistake or challenge. They know how to find intriguing information from the NRC public web sites.
They will frame any story they find as negatively as possible. If there is no other source of information made readily available, their version is the one that will stick in the public’s mind.