By now, I'm sure many of you might have read about the declaration of an "unusual event" at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant. Click here for the official word from TVA on exactly what happened:
TVA Cancels Notification of Unusual Event at Watts BarUPDATE: Some other important points about what happened today now that I've heard from some of my colleagues at NEI:
November 21, 2006
SPRING CITY, Tenn. -- TVA today cancelled a notification of unusual event at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, the least serious of four levels of nuclear plant event classifications, after determining there was no leakage of water from the plant's coolant system.
TVA declared the event at 6:15 a.m., when there was an indication of a possible leakage greater than guidelines allow. After an investigation determined there was no water leakage, the unusual event was cancelled at 7:35 a.m. EST.
"There was never any danger to the health and safety of employees or the public," said Watts Bar Vice President Mike Skaggs. "We declared the unusual event and notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because there was an initial indication of water leakage. After a thorough investigation, we cancelled the event."
Director of Meigs County Schools Robert Greene decided to dismiss classes for the day, saying that some parents were keeping their children out of school after hearing about the Watts Bar event. Greene said that attendance is always low on the day before the Thanksgiving break, so he decided to call off classes.
The declaration of an unusual event at a nuclear plant does not require a relocation or dismissal of school classes, according to emergency procedures. Because of strict federal laws, any event out of the ordinary is reported to federal, state and local authorities.
Watts Bar Unit 1 has been shut down since September for a planned refueling and maintenance outage and was not in operation. The second unit at Watts Bar is unfinished.
An "unusual event" is the lowest of the four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (The others are alert, site emergency and general emergency.) Over the course of a year, between 15-20 unusual events are declared across the entire fleet of U.S. nuclear power plants -- and many of those are caused by external events like a hurricane.
The circumstances at Watts Bar did not come anywhere close to the emergency response threshold that would trigger action to be taken by local officials. TVA never instructed nor recommend that local officials close the schools. No radiation was released from the plant. If there had been, the more appropriate emergency response -- depending on circumstances existing at the time -- might have been for people near the plant to shelter in place.
What happened today tracks very closely with an NRC memorandum issued earlier this year that warned that many local emergency response officials are becoming pre-conditioned to expect that plant events will quickly and almost automatically reach a crisis stage:
The staff should coordinate with DHS to develop emergency planning exercise scenarios which would help avoid anticipatory responses associated with preconditioning of participants by incorporating a wide spectrum of releases (ranging from little or no release to a large release) and events, including security-based events. These scenarios should emphasize the expected interfaces and coordination between key decision-makers based on realistic postulated events. The staff should share experiences of preconditioning or "negative training" with DHS.Something to keep in mind. For more information on emergency preparedness from NRC, click here.
POSTSCRIPT: Links to others who are following the story:
The Word is Truth
Chaos In Motion
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