TVA gets green light to begin operation of Watts Bar 2

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said Oct. 22 that it has received its long-sought-after operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the 1,150-MW Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor.

NRC has approved the process for TVA to begin putting the nation’s first new nuclear generation of the 21st century into service at the site near Spring City, Tenn. The sister unit, Watts Bar 1, went online in 1996.

Together with already-operating Unit 1, Watts Bar will produce nearly 2,300 MW of carbon-free energy. That’s enough to power 1.3 million homes in the TVA service territory.

Receipt of the operating license marks the end of the construction on Watts Bar Unit 2. The Watts Bar team is focusing on and preparing for initial fuel load, which will require several weeks of work with ongoing NRC inspections and reviews, and readying all the key components and systems for operation.

The fuel is already on-site and Watts Bar 2 is on schedule for operation in early 2016.

TVA will be slow and deliberate as it begins operation, Johnson says

The unit will start out at a very low power. TVA will also start and stop the reactor during the opening months to make sure everything is working properly. “We are going to be slow but very deliberate,” said President and CEO Bill Johnson.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” prior to actual startup, Johnson said. TVA goes forward at Watts Bar 2 “with a strong dose of reliability and accountability,” he added.

Johnson spoke at an announcement ceremony that featured TVA nuclear officials. Representatives from Bechtel and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) were also on hand.

“This achievement signifies more than a stage in construction for TVA,” Johnson said. “It demonstrates to the people of the Valley that we have taken every step possible to deliver low cost, carbon-free electricity safely and with the highest quality.

“If you are in our business this is a beautiful sight,” Johnson said pointing to two cooling towers at the plant.

“This plant will help us avoid six to eight million tons of CO2 per year,” Johnson said in a ceremony that was webcast. “Nuclear power is clean and is second-only to hydro in costs,” Johnson said.

At the height of construction the project employed more than 3,500 people. Crews reached more than 33 million work hours without a lost-time accident.

“Completing Watts Bar Unit 2 and successfully licensing one of the nation’s largest new nuclear generation projects is a historic milestone for TVA and the nuclear industry,” said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes. “With the delivery of this unit, we are further positioning nuclear power as a key player in TVA’s – and the nation’s – energy portfolio and instilling confidence in TVA and the nuclear industry.”

“Issuance of the operating license for the nation’s first new nuclear unit of the 21st century is the result of a good team completing a tremendous amount of hard work and complex testing the right way – safely and with quality – and demonstrating that Unit 2 can be operated in a manner that ensures regulatory compliance,” said Mike Skaggs, senior vice president of Watts Bar Operations and Construction.

“Watts Bar 2 hasn’t been easy,” Skaggs said. “Many people came out of retirement to help us,” Skaggs said.

TVA is focused on closing out its testing program and making the transition to dual-unit operation at Watts Bar, Skaggs said. In 2011, TVA was about 40% complete and now it is 99% complete, Skaggs said.

Unit 2 is now “a mirror image of Unit 1” with much new equipment, Skaggs said. Skaggs also went on to say that TVA has made certain regulatory upgrades that NRC called for following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

After getting off to a rocky start toward development of the never-finished Watts Bar 2 facility, TVA has been relatively free of big problems since it did a major shakeup of the Watts Bar 2 completion project in 2012. TVA had announced in the spring of 2012 that completing 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.

When it goes online, Watts Bar 2 will bring the number of U.S. nuclear reactors from 99 to 100.


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