TVA nuclear guard trades gunfire with trespasser

TVA Watts Bar nuclear power plant Tennessee shots fired trespasser security guard

By Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst, GenerationHub

A Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) security officer traded gunfire with a trespasser at the Watts Bar nuclear station property during an incident around 2 a.m. on Sunday, April 21.

Although the TVA security person was unhurt, the security guard’s vehicle was hit by gunfire, a TVA spokesperson told GenerationHub by phone. The trespasser fled the scene and the guard immediately alerted other TVA security staff.

Local law enforcement officers from two counties in Tennessee, Rhea County and Meigs County, responded to the scene, said TVA spokesperson Jim Hopson. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also involved. Although an investigation into the event is continuing, plant staff confirmed that there were no lapses in security measures that are in place to fully protect the plant and the general public, TVA said in a news release.

Watts Bar plant staff declared an unusual event, the lowest of the NRC’s four emergency classifications, due to the gunfire incident. Watts Bar exited the unusual event several hours after the incident.

The incident occurred on the Tennessee River side of the plant property, but several hundred yards from the site’s protected area, which houses the reactor and power production facilities. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the incident happened more than a quarter-mile from the protected area.

The site remains under a heightened state of security.

The trespasser was discovered by the security officer during a routine patrol around the outskirts of the 1,600-acre Watts Barr property, the spokesperson said. The trespasser fired multiple gunshots at the TVA guard and the TVA officer responded with multiple shots before the intruder fled.

It is possible that the intruder might have had a boat nearby, the spokesperson said.

The NRC and other state and federal agencies were notified, and the NRC has staffed its incident response center in the Region II office in Atlanta and is monitoring the events, along with the resident inspector who has responded to the site.

The Watts Bar plant is located near Spring City, Tenn., about 60 miles southwest of Knoxville. Watts Bar Unit 1 is at 100 percent power. TVA is engaged in a multi-billion-dollar construction project to complete the never-finished Watts Bar 2 in 2015. Like Watts Bar 1, Unit 2 will be a pressurized water reactor (PWR) with a nameplate capacity of more than 1,200 MW.

The intruder was sighted along the river side of the property, where the person would not have had to climb over any barrier – although there are many signs advising against trespassing, the spokesperson said.

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