Work on TVA's Watts Bar reactor more than 90 percent complete

Work on TVA's Watts Bar reactor more than 90 percent complete

August 13th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Workers lower the 282,000-pound core barrel into the reactor core at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

• $4.2 billion: Projected completion cost for the reactor

• 3,100: Number of employees and contractors working on reactor construction

• 90-plus: Percent completion for the entire Watts Bar project

• 1,150: Megawatts generated by the new unit, or enough power to supply about 650,000 homes

• 98: Percent of work passing quality control on the first inspection

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with its plan to get the biggest share of its electricity generation from nuclear power in the future.

TVA said work on its newest reactor -- the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2 -- is more than 90 percent complete and the unit should begin generating power by the end of next year.

"Most of the major construction work is concluding," TVA Senior Vice President Mike Skaggs said in his quarterly update on the ongoing work at the Watts Bar Unit 2. "We are making systems, structures and components like new and are making sure they operate according to TVA, industry and technical standards."

The addition of a second reactor at Watts Bar -- the seventh nuclear unit for TVA -- will boost the share of power TVA derives from nuclear units to about 40 percent. TVA has set a long-term target of getting about 20 percent of its power each from coal, natural gas and renewable power, including its hydroelectric dams.

TVA's on-and-off-again building of the Watts Bar reactor over the past four decades should finish by December 2015 to make the Watts Bar reactor the first new nuclear unit added in America in the 21st century.

While other Southern utilities are building the next generation of nuclear plants, TVA is the only U.S. utility still finishing the first-generation of nuclear plants launched in the 196os and 1970s.

Environmentalists worry that Watts Bar was designed nearly a half century ago and, like Sequoyah, includes an ice condenser reactor building which is smaller and critics argue more susceptible to failure.

"We remain concerned about continuing to invest in this old technology when we would prefer that TVA move away from dangerous and dirty power from coal, nuclear and gas to more earth-friendly sources like solar, wind and, of course, energy efficiency and conservation," said Sandra Kurtz, an anti-nuclear activist and leader in the Cherokee chapter of the Sierra Club.

TVA is also moving forward with plans to extend the life of its Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant for another 20 years.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Tuesday it will conduct two public hearings next month in Soddy-Daisy to present its findings that TVA should be allowed to continue to operate the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant through 2040.

The NRC's draft environmental impact statement recommends that the current 40-year operating license for Sequoyah, which was granted in 1980, be extended another two decades beyond its scheduled 2020 expiration. The public hearings are scheduled at meetings from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 17 at Soddy-Daisy City Hall, 9835 Dayton Pike.

The Sequoyah plant has two pressurized water reactors. Construction of the twin-reactor complex on the Tennessee River began in 1969 and was completed in 1980. The operator, Tennessee Valley Authority, submitted its renewal application Jan. 15, 2013.

Watts Bar was built as a twin plant to the Sequoyah plant, but Watts Bar has been modified through the years to meet new NRC standards. Watts Bar Unit 1 was completed in 1996.

TVA is now conducting tests of equipment installed at the Unit 2 reactor. The first major system test, called Open Vessel Testing, began ahead of schedule during the period and was completed earlier this summer.

"These tests are critical as we move toward," Skaggs said.

Skaggs cautioned that the 3,100 workers on the site "have a lot of complex and challenging work still to go" before the project is completed. But TVA President Bill Johnson confirmed last week that the latest version of the project "is on time and on schedule" after earlier work on the project was beset with whistle blower complaints, incomplete work and frequent delays and cost overruns."

In a conference call with analysts, Johnson said some may tire of hearing his oft-repeated "on time and on budget" reference to the unit.

"But I never get tired of hearing that," he said.

After the initial $2.5 billion budget to complete Watts Bar proved inadequate three years ago, Skaggs took over and is on target to finish the total project for $4.2 billion.

Although Watts Bar is the costliest nuclear plant built yet by TVA, Watts Bar is only about half the cost of what Southern Co. is spending to build more units at Plant Vogtle or what South Carolina Electric & Gas is spending to build two more units at the Virgil Summer Nuclear Plant in South Carolina.

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