Watts Bar sole source of nuclear weapon material; Rising VAT

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — Tensions between Russia and the United States over the conflict in Ukraine are rekindling thoughts about nuclear war. Both sides recently publicly docked nuclear submarines – and Russia held drills with its nuclear fleet. Much of our nuclear arsenal starts in our backyards. This material comes from one place.

“The Tennessee Valley Authority has always had a mission of national defense,” TVA’s Jim Hopson told WVLT.

For decades, TVA has teamed up with the military.

“Tritium production at Watts Bar is just the latest reflection of that mission today,” Hopson said.

This natural isotope – tritium – has only one American public industrial producer: the Watts Bar nuclear power plant.

“As part of the nuclear weapons program,” Hopson continued.

Not everyone thinks that the VAT that helps nuclear weapons equipment is right. We spoke to Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, a Washington think tank that wants to limit the spread of nuclear weapons.

“The civilian nuclear power industry should not be involved in the production of nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.

Tritium supercharges our arsenal and increases the explosive yield of nuclear weapons. The material has a very short half-life, only 12.3 years according to all sides.

“So that means if it’s not in use, it needs to be filled,” Hopson said.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Watts Bar inserts special rods into its reactors and shuts off the tritium. For nearly two decades, thousands of rods have been produced. Finally, the rods (commonly referred to as TPBARs) are driven to Aiken, South Carolina.

“VAT is not involved in freight,” Hopson said of delivery to the Savannah River site.

However, some are worried about the radioactive bars circulating on our highways.

“If there’s a traffic accident somewhere, we want to be sure that this material never leaves its packaging,” Hopson said. “Even in the worst accident scenarios we can imagine.”

There are, however, problems in the production of tritium. In a recent Friday notice to the Federal Register, TVA officials said an outage at Watts Bar was delayed.

“However, primarily due to adverse weather conditions and the emerging discovery of problems during the removal of the original steam generators and the installation of the replacement steam generators, the shutdown was delayed such that it is now expected to be completed in early June 2022.”

Moreover, the VAT has been asked to speed up production – at the same time, tensions with Russia are increasing.

“Now a second is going to be used to increase tritium production – these are power generation plants, but they also facilitate the production of nuclear bombs,” Kimball said. He talks about a second reactor.

Despite this, the TVA spokesperson we spoke to said “we have not seen a significant renewed interest due to current world events”.

The 50-year-old Arms Control Association told us it believes the Department of Energy could use other tools to create tritium — although its focus is no longer on nukes at all.

“We are on the brink of a new, unconstrained nuclear arms race,” Kimball told us.

Tritium is a hydrophilic – meaning the isotope wants to attach to water. Some have expressed concern about the water supply downstream of Watts Bar Lake. Note: Tritium is a byproduct of nuclear reactors, although it is increasing at Watts Bar. We asked Arms Control and TVA about the environmental impacts of the radioactive isotope.

“Local leaders, community members, you know, need to closely monitor the safety and environmental conditions that are affected by tritium production and the waste that is pouring into the Tennessee River and into the atmosphere,” he said. said Kimball.

“The amount of tritium that can be placed in the Tennessee River is well below TDEC standards, well below EPA standards, and certainly grossly below the level of radioactivity that would impact humans,” Hopson said.

“In government parlance, it’s ‘below regulatory concerns.’ But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be aware and somewhat concerned,” Kimball said.

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