The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said Dec. 15 that it has completed loading the 193 new fuel assemblies into its Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor, marking the first initial core load of a commercial nuclear unit in the United States in nearly two decades.
With fuel loaded and the reactor reassembled, the Watts Bar team can begin testing the unit’s performance as its power output is gradually increased to full capacity at the 1,150-MW unit.
Power ascension testing is an extension of the pre-operational tests and is the final phase designed to ensure that Unit 2 is capable of delivering electricity safely, reliably and efficiently to TVA’s power system, the utility said.
“With this critical step, Watts Bar continues to be the nation’s leader in achieving milestones for the first new nuclear generation of the 21st Century,” said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes. “Unit 2 now becomes a fully operational nuclear reactor as the station further transitions to dual-unit operations.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2 on Oct. 22. Receipt of the full-power license cleared the way for fuel load, once TVA completed all remaining pre-operational tests.
“It’s been a complete team effort getting the station ready for a safe, quality Unit 2 fuel load,” said Watts Bar Site Vice President Kevin Walsh. “From finishing construction tasks to completing all start-up testing, achieving conditions to safely load fuel required a substantial effort that the team delivered with professionalism and a focus on safety.”
During testing, nuclear systems and components will be carefully operated in stages of increasing reactor power and the unit will be connected to the TVA power grid and shut down several times to test automatic control responses and to demonstrate the unit can be properly maintained and cooled. This gradual increase in power and these well-controlled, required tests and observations are designed to verify the primary and secondary systems work as designed to safely operate the unit, TVA 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.