US reactor gets go-ahead for completion

02 August 2007

Thirty-five years after construction began on Watts Bar unit 2, the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has unanimously approved its completion in a five-year project costing an estimated $2.49 billion.

Construction of two 1270 MWe pressurized water reactors (PWRs) began at Watts Bar in 1972 but was suspended in 1985. Work on unit 1 recommenced in 1990 and it eventually started up in 1996, but unit 2 was left 60% complete. In 2001 TVA wrote off $1.72 billion spent on building the unit. Now, following studies of future power needs, cost and schedule, environmental impact, and financing and risks, "completing this unit is without a doubt TVA's best option to help meet the region's growing power needs," according to TVA chair Bill Sansom.

The studies found that completion of Watts Bar 2 would reduce TVA's overall power production costs, while avoiding the emission of 6-8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. It was the lowest fuel cost option and the fastest option to meet baseload power needs, at a 35% lower cost than the next alternative.

With electricity demand in the region growing at nearly 2% a year, TVA is stepping up its efforts on energy conservation and demand reduction and is committed to providing renewable energy, but this would not be enough to meet the growth on its own, according to TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore. "Adding Watts Bar Unit 2 to TVA's generation portfolio will go a long way toward meeting the growing demand for power in the region," he said.

The project could still face some licensing hurdles. The unit has a current construction licence which is due to expire at the end of 2010, but will need to obtain an operating licence before it can start up. TVA is required to notify the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 120 days in advance of the restart of construction work. However, TVA can draw on the experience of completing and operating Watts Bar 1 and also of Browns Ferry 1, restarted in May 2007 after 22 years.

TVA is the largest public power provider in the USA and operates six nuclear units: three boiling water reactors (BWRs) at Browns Ferry in Alabama, and three PWRs at Watts Bar and Sequoyah in Tennessee.

Further information

TennesseeValley Authority (TVA)

US NuclearRegulatory Commission

WNA's US Nuclear Power Industryinformation paper

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