Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant
|Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant|
Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant (NRC image)
|Location||Athens, Limestone County, Alabama|
Units 1–2: May 1, 1967|
Unit 3: July 1, 1968
Unit 1: August 1, 1974|
Unit 2: March 1, 1975
Unit 3: March 1, 1977
|Construction cost||$3.259 billion (2007 USD)|
|Owner(s)||Tennessee Valley Authority|
|Operator(s)||Tennessee Valley Authority|
|Nuclear power station|
|Reactor supplier||General Electric|
|Cooling source||Wheeler Lake|
7 × Mechanical Draft|
1 × 1101 MW|
1 × 1104 MW
1 × 1105 MW
|Make and model||BWR-4 (Mark 1)|
|Thermal capacity||3 × 3458 MWth|
|Nameplate capacity||3310 MW|
|Annual net output||27,848 GWh (2017)|
The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is located on the Tennessee River near Decatur and Athens, Alabama, on the north side (right bank) of Wheeler Lake. The nuclear power plant is named after a ferry that operated at the site until the middle of the 20th century. The site has three General Electric boiling water reactor (BWR) nuclear generating units and is owned entirely by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Browns Ferry was TVA's first nuclear power plant; its approval occurred on June 17, 1966 and construction began in September 1966. In 1974, the time of its initial operation, it was the largest nuclear plant in the world. It was the first nuclear plant in the world to generate more than 1 gigawatt of power.
In 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) renewed the licenses for all three reactors, extending their operation for an additional twenty years past their original 40-year licensing period.
On August 16, 2017, the NRC approved TVA's request for a 14.3% uprate of each reactor's output. Each unit's gross electrical output is 1155 MWe (1101 MWe net), but after power uprates during refueling outages in Fall 2018 for Unit 1, Spring 2019 for Unit 2, and Spring 2018 for Unit 3, the gross electrical output for each unit will be 1310 MWe (1256 MWe net).
Once complete, these power uprates will solidify Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant as the second largest power station in the United States by net generation; eclipsed only by the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Tonopah, AZ.
Unit 1 is a 1101 MWe net BWR/4 built by General Electric. Construction started on Unit 1 on September 12, 1966 and originally came online on December 20, 1973. It was licensed to operate through December 20, 2013. However, Unit 1 was shut down for a year after a fire in 1975 damaged the unit. The unit was subsequently repaired and operated from 1976 through March 3, 1985, when all three Browns Ferry units were shut down for operational and management issues.
Starting in 2002, TVA undertook an effort to restore Unit 1 to operational status, spending $1.8 billion USD to do so. The NRC approved the restart of Unit 1 on May 15, 2007 and the reactor was brought up to criticality on May 22. During initial testing after restart, on May 24, 2007, a leaky hydraulic control pipe in the turbine hall burst, spilling about 600 US gallons (2,300 l; 500 imp gal) of non-radioactive fluid, and the newly restarted reactor was temporarily powered down. Reactor power-up and tests resumed on May 27 and the unit started supplying power to the electricity supply grid on June 2, 2007, reaching full power on June 8. The Browns Ferry restart was estimated to pay for itself in five years.
Unit 1 generated 9801 GWh of electricity in 2017, achieving a capacity factor of 101.62%.
Unit 1 fire
On March 22, 1975 fire started when a worker using a candle to search for air leaks accidentally set a temporary cable seal on fire. At Browns Ferry, foamed plastic, covered on both sides with two coats of a flame retardant paint, was used as a firestop. The fire spread from the temporary seal into the foamed plastic, causing significant damage to the reactor control cabling in the station.
A NRC bulletin explained the circumstances of the fire.
The fire started in the cable spreading room at a cable penetration through the wall between the cable spreading room and the reactor building for Unit 1. A slight differential pressure is maintained (by design) across this wall, with the higher pressure being on the cable spreading room side. The penetration seal originally present had been breached to install additional cables required by a design modification. Site personnel were resealing the penetration after cable installation and were checking the airflow through a temporary seal with a candle flame prior to installing the permanent sealing material. The temporary sealing material was highly combustible, and caught fire. Efforts were made by the workers to extinguish the fire at its origin, but they apparently did not recognize that the fire, under the influence of the draft through the penetration, was spreading on the reactor building side of the wall. The extent of the fire in the cable spreading room was limited to a few feet from the penetration; however, the presence of the fire on the other side of the wall from the point of ignition was not recognized until significant damage to cables related to the control of Units 1 and 2 had occurred.
This later resulted in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission making significant additions to the standards for fire protection through the publication of 10CFR50.48 and Appendix R. According to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the newly restarted Unit 1 does not comply with these standards. Unit Three was not affected by the accident. This event was pivotal not just for firestopping in the nuclear field, but also in commercial and industrial construction. While the nuclear field went to installations of silicone foam, a wider array of firestops became prevalent in non-nuclear construction.
In a 2005 analysis of significant nuclear safety occurrences in the US, the NRC concluded that the fire at Browns Ferry was the most likely (excluding the actual Three Mile Island accident) "precursor" incident to have led to a nuclear accident in the event of a subsequent failure.
Unit 2 is a 1104 MWe net BWR/4 built by General Electric which originally came online on August 2, 1974, and is licensed to operate through June 28, 2034. Unit 2 generated 8396 GWh of electricity in 2017, achieving a capacity factor of 86.81%.
During a drought in August 2007, Unit 2 was shut down for one day because water temperature in the Tennessee River rose too high for the water to be used for cooling and then discharged back into the river.
Beginning in 2005 Unit 2 was loaded with BLEU (Blended Low Enriched Uranium) recovered by the DOE from weapons programs. This fuel contains quantities of U-236 and other contaminants because it was made from reprocessed fuel from weapons program reactors and therefore has slightly different characteristics when used in a reactor as compared to fresh uranium fuel. By making use of this fuel which would otherwise have been disposed of as waste the TVA is saving millions of dollars in fuel costs and accumulating a database of recycled uranium reactions in LWR use.
Unit 3 is a 1105 MWe net BWR/4 built by General Electric which originally came online on August 18, 1976, and is licensed to operate through July 2, 2036. Unit 3 generated 9651 GWh in 2017, achieving a capacity factor of 99.70%.
March 19, 1985
TVA decided to shut the entire plant down and keep it shut down indefinitely in order to focus on making improvements to all three units in order to bring it back into regulatory compliance following extremely negative assessments from the NRC. Unit 2 finally resumed operation on May 24, 1991, with Unit 3 following it on November 1, 1995, although Unit 1 did not resume operation until June 2, 2007.
May 10, 1986
Cooling tower #4 (which was 90 feet (27 m) wide, 300 feet (91 m) long, and four stories tall) was destroyed in a fire caused by sparks from the electrical cooling fans in the tower hitting the abnormally dry redwood slats within the tower on May 10, 1986. During normal operation, water was kept flowing near-continuously over the redwood slats within the tower, but after close to two months of inactivity, the slats were very dry and extremely flammable. $5 million of damage was done.
May 23, 1996
Cooling tower #3 (which was in the process of being refurbished at the time) was heavily damaged in a fire on May 23, 1996, with about 80% of the tower destroyed.
April 27, 2011
At 5:01 PM on April 27, 2011, all three reactors scrammed due to loss of external power caused by a tornado in the vicinity of the plant. Control rod insertion and cooling procedures operated as designed with no physical damage or release of radiation. Diesel backup generators provided power after a brief period of outage. An NRC Unusual Event, the lowest level of emergency classification, was declared due to loss of power exceeding 15 minutes. Additionally, a small oil leak was found on one generator. Due to widespread transmission grid damage from the storms, Browns Ferry was unable to produce power for the grid and significant blackouts occurred throughout the Southeastern United States.
A drain line leaked 100-200 gallons of water containing tritium levels above acceptable EPA drinking water standards. The leak was fixed within three hours of when it was discovered and was largely contained within the plant area.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that 5 contract workers failed to conduct roving fire watch patrols as required by NRC. As a result, Tennessee Valley Authority was fined $140,000 for failing to maintain adequate fire watches in 2015 at Browns Ferry. 
The NRC defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: a plume exposure pathway zone with a radius of 10 miles (16 km), concerned primarily with exposure to, and inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination, and an ingestion pathway zone of about 50 miles (80 km), concerned primarily with ingestion of food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity.
The 2010 U.S. population within 10 miles (16 km) of Browns Ferry was 39,930, an increase of 12.3 percent in a decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data for msnbc.com. The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles (80 km) was 977,942, an increase of 11.0 percent since 2000. Cities within 50 miles include Huntsville (28 miles to city center).
According to an NRC study published in August 2010, the estimated risk of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to reactor one was 1 in 270,270, and for reactors two and three, the risk was 1 in 185,185.
- List of largest power stations in the United States
- Largest nuclear power plants in the United States
- New Madrid Seismic Zone
- 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes
- The plant is operated in an open-cycle mode of operation with up to seven additional mechanical draft "helper" cooling towers that are used as necessary in order to comply with regulations on discharge water temperature limits. One or more of the plant's units can also be derated (operated at a reduced power level) in order to maintain discharge water temperature within permitted limits, although this is only done as a last resort as it reduces revenues. The plant was designed to also be able to operate in a fully closed-cycle mode, but due to difficulties operating in this mode, it has not been used since at least 1991.
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- Mahaffey, James. Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (1st ed.). Pegasus Books. ISBN 9781480447745.
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Media related to Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant at Wikimedia Commons
- TVA Website
- "Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, Alabama". Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). August 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- "Browns Ferry 1 Boiling Water Reactor". Operating Nuclear Power Reactors. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). February 14, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- "Browns Ferry 2 Boiling Water Reactor". Operating Nuclear Power Reactors. NRC. February 14, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- "Browns Ferry 3 Boiling Water Reactor". Operating Nuclear Power Reactors. NRC. February 14, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
- The Fire at the Brown's Ferry Nuclear Power Station, by David Dinsmore Comey, 1976.
- NIRS Investigation Finds That "New" Browns Ferry-1 Reactor Still Doesn't Meet Fire Protection Regulations Its 1975 Fire Caused Nuclear Information and Resource Service, June 20, 2007.
- TVA reactor shut down; cooling water drawn from river too hot
- Reactor Fire Protection 10CFR50.48[permanent dead link], NRC Summary
- Climate change causes nuclear, coal plant shutdowns June 4, 2012 USA Today, regarding the effects of global warming