published Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

TVA shuffles nuclear chiefs; delay hits Watts Bar Nuclear Plant

Mike Skaggs, 51, is the head of the utility’s nuclear development and construction team.
Mike Skaggs, 51, is the head of the utility’s nuclear development and construction team.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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  • photo
    Ashok Bhatnagar, left, senior vice president of new power generation for TVA, answers questions from members of the media about new construction of a second reactor on Friday before a press tour of the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The completion of a second reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., is behind schedule — perhaps by as much as a year — and now has been stretched out until sometime in 2013, according to TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum.

“We’re reassessing the schedule,” McCollum said Monday after announcing the retirement of Ashok S. Bhatnagar, senior vice president of nuclear generation development and construction and one of TVA’s highest paid executives.

Bhatnagar, 55, was paid $1.4 million last year, and had held the position since 2007. He will retire Oct. 1.

With up to 85 percent of the Watts Bar work done, and with Bellefonte expected to move from concept stage to heavy engineering work if the board next week approves a staff recommendation to complete the Athens, Ala., nuclear plant, Bhatnagar said he wants to spend more time with his family and to travel.

“I decided this is a good time for me to leave,” he said.

Mike Skaggs, 51 and vice president at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, will take Bhatnagar’s place and will immediately begin working with Bhatnagar in a two-month transition.

“Obviously it’s an important time with the completion of Watts Bar Unit 2 under way, we want to be sure we have a smooth leadership transition there as well as continuing the work that the nuclear generation development and construction [group] is doing on our other projects,” McCollum said.

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    This file photo of April 2007, released by the Tennessee Valley Authority, shows the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.

In addition to being behind in construction, TVA also faces hurdles to keep Watts Bar on schedule because of licensing snags, he said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has filed a petition seeking further regulatory scrutiny of TVA’s estimate of a second reactor’s effect on the Tennessee River aquatic life, given that the plant will increase water intake from the river by 33 percent beyond the 188.2 million gallons a day it now takes.

The group also claims water discharged from the plant is much warmer than the rest of the river, causing “thermal plumes” which hurt aquatic life.

McCollum said TVA engineers believe the river will not be harmed, but the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which advises the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, plans a hearing on the contention.

TVA expects licensing to be held up by any final regulatory changes initiated by the NRC following the regulators’ “lessons learned” report from the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns in Japan in March.

The Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor is the only commercial reactor under construction in the United States. In March, a Watts Bar contract inspector was charged in federal court with falsifying records.

Authorities said he submitted reports stating he had checked cables meant to provide electric power for safety systems in the new $2.5 billion nuclear reactor containment structure near Spring City. The authorities claim he did not inspect the cables.

Skaggs, who also has been site vice president at Watts Bar and Browns Ferry nuclear plants, said he is looking forward to the new job. He will be responsible for completion activities at Watts Bar Unit 2 and for development at Bellefonte, reporting directly to McCollum.

“It’s challenging,” Skaggs said.

McCollum will continue to have oversight responsibility for construction completion at Watts Bar 2 and for future nuclear construction.

John Carlin, who was site vice president at Constellation’s R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Rochester, N.Y., will be the new site vice president at TVA’s Sequoyah Nuclear Plant. In the early 1990s he had been a unit operations manager at Browns Ferry.

Contact Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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