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Today's Events at Watts Bar

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 Bar

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.
UPDATE: Some other important points about what happened today now that I've heard from some of my colleagues at NEI:

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
Noisy Room

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Don Kosloff said…
The action by the county schools was pathetic. Probably the teachers just wanted a longer weekend. Don't we all. But at least be honest about it.
Alex Brown said…
Well, to my understanding the school system was honest about it. Looking at the local news they pretty much admit that they closed down because attendance is already so low due to the hollidays. However it is certainlly unfortunate that they choose the event at Watts Bar as an excuse as some people might jump to the wrong conclusions.
And in six months some yahoo is going to cite this as proof that nuclear power is unsafe.

I just know it. It has happened before; whenever people forget the actual outcome, the weirdos come out of the woodwork with their disaster scenarios.

Mark my words.
Anonymous said…
The wackos can cite it as "unsafe" because of this "incident", but we simply point out the facts:

1. No fatalities among the public.

2. No fatalities among employees.

3. No injuries to any member of the public.

4. No injuries to any employee.

5. No property damage to the public or the facility itself.

6. No environmental damage.

I guess if more things in modern life were as "unsafe" as this, we'd have a lot fewer deaths, injuries, property damage, and environmental effects.
gunter said…
It is an indicator as to the current inadequacy of emergency planning for nuclear power plants.

It's called "spontaneous evacuation." The phenomenon is not new. It happened following TMI in '79. It comes up in poll after poll.
People are not going to wait around for "the plan."

These parents heard the radio activity on their police scanners and came in to pick up their kids.
(In a real radilogical emergency, NRC and FEMA think that parents are going to leave their kids in the hands of authorities. Parents coming to get their kids will be faced with police. What foolishness!)

Spontaneous evacuation presents a big problem for radiological emergency planning. NEI denies that it will even occur. Here is a clear example.

None of the agencies currently incorporate the inevitable into their emergency drills.

It will wreak havoc if and when the real deal comes up. For example, when those school kids are supposed to get bused to reception centers 12 or so miles away as "the plan" calls for, they will likely be arriving to communities that have also spontaneously evacuated, including a percentage of responders for those same centers. Or if they are told to duck and cover in the school hallway a number of teachers are going to look to rescuing their own families first and spontaneoulsy leave the shelter in place scenario.

Role abandonment by police, teachers, medical personnel, etc. etc.spontaneously evacuating is a predictable human behavior that is being ignored under current radiological planning. Let's not furhter complicate things with reality, folks, right?

Gunter, NIRS
Anonymous said…
Geez, people aren't going to wait for the plan. They're going to abandon their roles and do whatever they want. So, basically, now the wackos want us to plan for people not following the plan. What if they don't follow the plan for not following the plan? Do we have to plan for that too? Maybe they'll abandon their roles and then decide to take up their roles again but in a different manner? Maybe they'll not abandon their roles, but decide to plan a new plan to make a plan? Sounds like the wackos are requiring the industry to plan for (and fund) every conceivable possibility. IOW, make a plan for people not following a plan. Well, which plan do you not want to follow? Sounds like you're saying plans are useless, so don't have them. Well, in that case, we'd be like almost every other industry out there. I have yet to hear of any emergency plans for the airport just a mile or so from my house, where planes overfly my property dozens of times a day. Or even the railroad that has hundreds of hazardous materials cars riding down the tracks a few hundred yards from my workplace. My guess is those businesses have a much greater probability of accidents (since they've had them with greater frequency in my lifetime than any nuclear facility) compared to nuclear plants.

Maybe I'll listen to the wackos more closely when they start hammering other industries to have a plan for not following a plan. Or even have a plan in the first place.
Brian Mays said…
Mr. Gunter,

What you call "spontaneous evacuation," I call irrational fear. It is a kind of cattle response, whereby something stupid sets off a stampede, and cattle are not the only creatures that susceptible to it. Unfortunately, people will behave like cattle sometimes too.

But this is known, and a radiological emergency (even a spurious one) is hardly unique in triggering this kind of reaction. There are many examples of where this happens, and in every case, precautions should be taken to prevent this kind of response. Usually, this involves proper information, or in the case of preventing the triggering event, eliminating disinformation.

The classic (cliché) example is that we don't allow anyone to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. That certainly results in a "spontaneous evacuation," which can lead to tragic consequences, and is thus undesirable.

However, if we look at history, how is TMI in '79 any different from this? It is clear, in hindsight, that the greatest harm that was caused by the event was not radiological; rather, it was the panic that surrounded the event.

What caused this panic? Well, much of it was the lack of information available to the public. That is a valid criticism of the nuclear industry, but fortunately, some of us here (on this blog and elsewhere) are working very hard to correct that, and much progress has been made since 1979. The other part, however, was the disinformation spread by Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and groups like NIRS.

So, tell me ... how is NIRS any different than someone who yells "Fire!" in a crowded theater? It's the same type of disinformation, the same type of confusion of the issues, and the same type of ornery lies ... all designed to cause fear.

Mr. Gunter, your very words are evidence of this. Personally, I'm disgusted at the sick pleasure you seem to take at using the helpless panic of ignorant people as a talking point.

Is that all that NIRS has to offer?

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