published Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Watts Bar on track for power production next year

Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.
Steam rises from the cooling tower of the single operating reactor at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Watts Bar Unit 2

Location: On the Tennessee River near Spring City, Tenn.

Owner: Tennessee Valley Authority

Design: Westinghouse pressurized water reactor

Output: 1,100 megawatts, or enough power to supply to needs of two cities the size of Chattanooga

Started: January 1973

Scheduled completion: December 2015

Completion cost: $4.2 billion since work resumed four years ago; total investment exceeds $6 billion

Construction staff: Currently 3,200 contract workers, down from peak of 3,500

Plant staff: 300 employees will run unit 2 when in operation

By the numbers

* 26 million - No. of manhours without a lost-time accident

* 97 percent - Quality acceptance rate on installations without any modifications

* 8,700 - Component tests to be done, half of which are now complete

* 87 - No. of key plant systems, 41 of which have been turned over for pre-operational testing

Source: TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority said Friday that its newest reactor under construction at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant remains on schedule to begin generating power by the end of next year as the first new nuclear power plant of the 21st century.

With 3,200 contractors now working around the clock to finish the Unit 2 reactor near Spring City, Tenn., TVA Vice President Mike Skaggs said Friday the project remains within its $4.2 billion budget for completion and is moving toward power generation by December 2015.

The focus of work on the Watts Bar Unit 2 has shifted from large-scale construction to completion and testing of individual plant systems, TVA said in a new quarterly update on Tennessee's biggest construction project.

Last week, TVA began initial testing of pumps and valves that supply water to the reactor core, and Skaggs said nearly half of the new components being added during the current five-year completion program have been successfully tested.

"The targets we set for ourselves for safety, quality, budget and schedule have been met," Skaggs told reporters Friday during a plant update. "We achieved a significant milestone during the quarter as the last major systems were completed and released to pre-operational startup in support of open vessel testing."

The open vessel testing is coming two weeks earlier than originally scheduled by TVA.

TVA must still gain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before nuclear fuel is loaded in the plant next year. The NRC is yet to resolve lingering questions about how nuclear waste will be disposed of from new nuclear plants, which the commission must do before issuing any new reactor licenses. Skaggs acknowledged the waste issue remains a challenge to getting the new plant licensed, but he is hopeful new rules will be issued by the end of the year.

The Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar will be the first new U.S. reactor built in two decades and the first since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan where a tsunami swamped safety systems and caused a nuclear meltdown at one of the reactors.

In response to the safety concerns raised by the Fukushima accident, Skaggs said TVA is spending $200 million to upgrade safety systems at Watts Bar, including new flood protection measures at the riverfront plant.

TVA began building Watts Bar in 1973 and, after suspending work in 1985 for five years, completed the Unit 1 reactor in 1996 -- the last new commercial nuclear reactor to be licensed in the United States.

The NRC has since revamped its licensing of new nuclear plants to a combined single licensing process. But since TVA gained an initial construction permit for Watts Bar 40 years ago, Watts Bar will remain under the NRC's previous two-step licensing system in which plants must obtain a construction license before the plant may be built and an operating license before nuclear fuel is loaded in the plant.

Skaggs said the construction staff at Watts Bar swelled to 3,500 workers earlier this year and the plant continues to have about 3,200 contractors involved in engineering, construction and testing for the Unit 2 reactor.

Skaggs took over the Watts Bar construction project three years ago when plant work fell behind its original completion schedule and costs exceeded the initial projected $2.5 billion completion price tag. Initially, Skaggs cut the staff when more than 3,000 workers were on site because he said there was not enough supervision and direction for all those workers.

But Skaggs said he now has the right team in place for such a staff.

"We still have quite a bit of complex work in front of us as well as challenges to meet, but we do believe we have the right team and the right abilities to address those in a timely manner," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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