America's newest nuclear reactor resumed power generation Tuesday following more than four months of repairs to fix a ruptured condenser that idled the $5 billion unit only five months after it first started producing electricity.
TVA President Bill Johnson said Tuesday that the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is back on line "just in time to help us meet our peak demand during those hot August days ahead."
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., resumed power generation at 2:24 p.m. Tuesday after plant workers repaired a ruptured condenser that broke apart when support beams failed on the unit on March 23.
"We will bring the unit up to full power gradually to ensure that all of the equipment is working properly," Hopson said Tuesday night.
The newest reactor at Watts Bar became the first new commercial reactor added to the U.S. electric grid last October when TVA achieved full power at the Watts Bar reactor 42 years after construction began on the unit. But only five months after its commercial start, the Unit 2 reactor shut down when the support beams failed on one of the plant's condensers, which help convert the steam generated within the reactor back into water for recirculation in the closed loop system.
During a meeting with a Community Action Panel at Watts Bar on Monday, TVA Engineering Director Mike Casner said the main condensers on both units had design flaws.
Because of the tight quarters in the turbine building that houses the condensers, TVA Senior Nuclear Manager Mark Castronova said repairing the ruptured equipment took 160,000 man-hours and cost TVA $29 million in labor and equipment costs, not even counting the tens of millions of dollars of power generation lost during the 19-week outage.
TVA filed an insurance claim with Nuclear Energy Insurance Limited (NEIL) for the Unit 2 condenser failure and could receive some payment next year, officials told Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists during Monday's meeting with the public about the status of Watts Bar.
Johnson said TVA has had no trouble meeting power demand without the Watts Bar Unit 2 so far this summer and he said the utility achieved "strong financial results" so far this year even with the unexpected shutdown of the new nuclear unit.
Milder weather cut the amount of electricity sold to local power companies in the Tennessee Valley by 1.5 percent in the first nine months of TVA's fiscal year. But higher fuel surcharges and a base rate increase last year combined to boost TVA revenues and help TVA earn $233 million on electricity sales of $2.57 billion in the past three months.
In the same period a year ago, TVA earned $291 million on $2.48 billion in sales.
"Our year to date financials continue to reflect the warm, dry conditions and the lower output in the first half of the year along with higher natural gas prices," Johnson said. "TVA's diverse generation portfolio and our sustained operational efficiency efforts have been instrumental in keeping our rates lower for our customers despite challenging operating conditions this year. I'm optimistic we'll end the fiscal year in good shape."
Above-average rainfall this summer helped restore hydroelectric generation in recent weeks — TVA's cheapest source of power — and higher industrial sales to direct-served customers has helped offset the weather-related drop in power consumption by residential and commercial customers in TVA's seven-state region.
TVA Chief Financial Officer John Thomas said TVA maintained its operating cost savings from previous years to help hold rates lower than they otherwise would have been with higher natural gas prices and other fuel costs.
"The efficiencies we gained through the past several years reduced our annual operating expenses by over $800 million," Thomas said. "This is especially important in a year like 2017 when we have more challenging operating conditions."
Even without generation from its newest reactor, TVA's power generating portfolio continued to become cleaner with the start up of the Paradise natural gas combined- cycle in Kentucky during April and the installation of the first selective catalytic reduction system at its Gallatin Fossil Plant near Nashville in June. A second SCR was added at Gallatin in July.
TVA said new coal scrubbers and SCRs also should become operational at Units 1 and 4 at the Shawnee Fossil Plant in Kentucky by this fall.
With more energy- efficient equipment in most homes and businesses and more self-generated power from solar, wind and other sources, TVA doesn't forecast the need to build any major new baseload power plants for at least another decade.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340.
This story was updated Aug. 1 at 10:25 p.m.