New TN Nuke gets License

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 11:10 AM gHale

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an operating license for a new nuclear power plant.

The 40-year license went out Oct. 22 to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor.

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The Watts Bar plant is about 10 miles south of Spring City, TN. Ground ended up broken on Unit 2 in 1973. However, officials suspended construction in 1985 when it was about 80 percent complete. In the years that followed, various pieces of equipment, such as pumps, motors, and valves, ended up salvaged for use in Watts Bar Unit 1 and for use in TVA’s Sequoyah plant. Construction resumed on Unit 2 in 2008 and it now appears the unit will finally enter commercial operation late this year or in early 2016.

“After devoting more than 200,000 hours over eight years conducting extensive safety reviews and inspections, we’re satisfied Unit 2 is safe to operate and we’ve issued TVA the operating license,” said Bill Dean, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “We already monitor Unit 1’s performance through our Reactor Oversight Process, which is used at all reactor sites throughout the country, and we’re adding Unit 2 to that system. Staff from our Region II office in Atlanta will ensure TVA meets its requirements as it loads fuel into Unit 2 and runs tests before the unit starts generating electricity.”

Mike Skaggs, senior vice president of operation and construction for TVA, said receiving the operating license means the unit is substantially complete, but there is still much more work that needs to happen before Watts Bar 2 enters commercial operation.

“We have several more weeks of activities to complete before we can load the fuel, and then we have several months of power ascension testing that we will complete to verify the reliability and operation of the systems in the plant,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said the fuel for the reactor is already onsite — stored in a new-fuel vault — and remaining work on systems is in the final stages.

“There are still a handful of pre-operational tests that need to be performed and then some functionality checks of equipment,” Skaggs said.

At that point, the fuel will be loaded, followed by several months of testing. Physics testing leads the way, beginning at very low power and increasing over time. TVA will also have to shut the plant down several times to verify the proper operation of safety equipment.

When questioned about the timeline, William (Bill) D. Johnson, president and chief executive of TVA, said, “The most important thing for us now, is to continue this track record of safe, reliable operation. And so Mike described the process, and we’re going to do that process and be very deliberate. We’re not going to be slow, but we’re going to be deliberate.”

Skaggs made it clear that bringing a new nuclear unit online is a very difficult process. He said in 2011, the project was 40 percent complete and now it is 99 percent complete. It has been a unique and complex project, but the team developed and executed a plan to get it done.