TVA still has 1,500 workers on-site at Watts Bar 2

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) currently has about 1,500 workers on-site at the Watts Bar 2 nuclear project in Tennessee, doing painting and other chores that still need to be addressed before TVA starts to load fuel at the 1,150-MW reactor, TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said Oct. 26.

Johnson was answering questions from reporters during a gathering at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) headquarters in Washington, D.C. The gathering was in recognition of TVA getting its long-sought operating license for Watts Bar 2 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Johnson said the crew of 1,500 extra workers (less than half as many as during peak consturction) will dwindle steadily in the next few months as TVA prepares to load fuel and start generating electricity.

Commercial power generation will probably start “sometime in the first quarter. But I’m going to evade this question,” Johnson said. “The important thing for us is not when we get it started, but that we do in the right way,” Johnson added.

Commercial power generation “is actually an accounting term,” Johnson said. There is still some testing to be finished prior to loading fuel, he noted. The addition of a second nuclear unit at Watts Bar means that the station will be able to generate enough carbon-free electricity for about 1.3 million people, Johnson said

“Watts Bar 2 has been built by and for the people of the Tennessee Valley,” Johnson said.

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.

It will be at least 10 years before TVA has solid plans to build more nuclear generation, whether that’s building a plant at the Bellefonte site in Alabama or ordering small modular reactors, Johnson said.

TVA currently does not envision needing more baseload power plants, aside from what’s already in the pipeline, by 2030. At the same time, however, some of TVA’s existing nuclear units could be retired by 2040, he added.

Johnson also said that TVA has no plans, at this point, to increase the operating license for any of its plants from 60 years to 80 years.

NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel congratulated Johnson and TVA and contractor Bechtel for completing construction of Watts Bar 2. The nuclear trade group leader noted that Watts Bar 2 will bring the domestic nuclear power fleet back to 100 units. The nuclear industry is excited about Watts Bar 2 as well as the four new nuclear units being built now in the Southeast, Fertel said.

“If we are going to meet the [Environmental Protection Agency] Clean Power Plan … we are going to need all those nuclear plants, plus the new ones, plus more,” Fertel said.

The TVA press conference provided Fertel and the nuclear industry something positive to discuss after the recent news that Entergy (NYSE:ETR) plans to retire the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, possibly as early as 2017.

“We need to see some improvement in the energy markets,” Fertel said. A level playing field “among all of the fuels” for power generation would be helpful, he added.

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.