TVA’s Johnson expects Watts Bar 2 operation this year

Construction of the Watts Bar 2 nuclear unit is more than 90% complete and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) President and CEO Bill Johnson expects that the facility will enter commercial operation this year.

During a quarterly financial update on Feb. 4, Johnson said the reactor vessel itself is fully assembled and the next big milestone would be “hot functional testing,” which is currently set for March.

Once that testing is complete, TVA will ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to schedule an “operational readiness assessment” for the 1,100-MW nuclear unit in Spring City, Tenn. Once NRC is satisfied with the plant’s operational readiness, TVA would be cleared for fuel loading at Watts Bar 2.

“We hope and expect [the plant] to be commercial by the end of December,” Johnson said during the call. “We will take the time to do this right,” but feel good about the chances of commissioning the plant in December, he added.

December represents the mid-range of the commercial operation schedule, Johnson said. Watts Bar 2 could conceivably be ready as early as this fall, or as late as next summer, Johnson said.

There is always the chance of “hiccups” that could push back the schedule, Johnson cautioned. TVA has been relatively free of such hiccups since it did a major shakeup of the Watts Bar 2 completion project in 2012 after it stumbled badly during the early going.

TVA announced in the spring of 2012 that completed the never-finished Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility could cost up to $4.5bn, rather than the $2.49bn that was originally forecast back in 2007.

Southern (NYSE:SO) announced days recently that its contractors believe that construction of two advanced nuclear reactors at the Vogtle station in Georgia could take 18 months longer than expected. That means that Vogtle Unit 3 wouldn’t be online until mid-2019 and Vogtle 4 probably wouldn’t be ready until the first half of 2020.

But the Vogtle project in Georgia as well as the two new V.C. Summer units being built by SCANA (NYSE:SCG) in South Carolina involve the modern AP 1000 Westinghouse design.

By contrast, TVA is completing a reactor using well-established pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology much like the neighboring Watts Bar 1 nuclear 1, which was completed in the 1990s.

Johnson has said many modern upgrades are being made at Watts Bar 2, including one of the nuclear industry’s first so-called “Flex” program buildings to accommodate additional emergency equipment. This is part of voluntary nuclear industry program to address fears over Fukushima-scale severe weather events.

The Watts Bar 2 construction is the largest reason that TVA is spending a record $3.5bn on capital expenditures during 2015, noted Johnson and TVA CFO John Thomas.

On other nuclear matters, Johnson noted that TVA’s entire generating fleet is “now under normal [rather than elevated] NRC oversight. TVA completed a refueling and maintenance outage during the past quarter. Also TVA nuclear and coal plants had good reliability during the last quarter, which eliminated the need to obtain power from other, more expensive source.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.