Watts Bar moves toward 2015 completion

Watts Bar moves toward 2015 completion

January 17th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Steam pours from the cooling tower of the Unit 1 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, in Spring City, Tenn. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., toured the plant Thursday to review the Tennessee Valley Authority's plans to finish the long-idled Unit 2 reactor in five years.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Reactor at a glance

Location: Watts Bar Unit 2 near Spring City

Capacity: 1,180 megawatts, or enough power for two cities the size of Chattanooga

Cost: $3.96 billion to $4.2 billion

History: Construction began in 1973, was halted in 1988 and resumed in 2007

Schedule: Projected fuel loading by June 2015, licensing December 2015

Design: Westinghouse pressurized water reactor

By the numbers

* 3,300 - Number of employees and contractors working on Watts Bar Unit 2

* 82 - Percent that Unit 2 is complete

* $650 million - Fiscal 2014 budget for Watts Bar Unit 2

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA's newest nuclear power plant should be generating electricity within the next two years.

With 3,300 employees and contractors working around the clock at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, TVA is confident the second reactor at the Spring City, Tenn., plant should be licensed by the end of 2015.

Despite earlier delays and cost overruns, the new head of the Watts Bar program says the $4 billion project is on schedule and within the budget TVA adopted two years ago after failing to meet initial projections. Mike Skaggs, senior vice president for TVA, said construction of the second reactor at Watts Bar is now 82 percent finished and work is continuing on installing and testing key systems for the reactor.

TVA has shifted its focus from large-scale construction to completion and testing of individual plant systems, Skaggs said.

"As the team continued to meet safety, quality, cost and schedule targets, we shifted our focus onto completing commodities, like valves and hangers, within specific systems and releasing those systems for testing," he said Thursday in his quarterly update on the construction work. "This is moving the project toward our major completion milestones."

The new unit is a twin to the other reactor at Watts Bar, which was completed and began generating electricity in 1996. TVA started construction on Watts Bar in 1973, but work was halted 15 years later when the growth in power demand slowed and workers raised questions about the way the plant had been built.

Although Unit 1 was within weeks of fuel loading in 1985, the unit took another 11 years to be finished.

Skaggs said TVA has preplanned and carefully inspected its work as it has been done to avoid such a delay again. TVA expects to be ready to load fuel into the reactor by June 2015 and to begin plant operations by the end of 2015.

But nuclear power critics question TVA's schedule and continue to oppose the licensing of the smaller ice condenser containment buildings used at TVA's Watts Bar and Sequoyah plants and others around the world.

"It's a terrible design that doesn't have as robust of containment as other reactors and we think it's an accident just waiting to happen," said Louis Zeller, science director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which has fought the licensing of the plant.

Others question whether TVA will meet its completion schedule given the history of delays and problems with construction at Watts Bar.

"Just as they have had previous delays, we think there will be further delays and they won't finish on time -- and that would be a good thing," said Sandy Kurtz, co-founder of the anti-nuclear group, Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team. "We're wishing for delays since we don't think this plant should operate."

TVA has had to enhance its flood control measures and raise the elevation of some equipment at Watts Bar in response to the concerns raised from the tsunami and near meltdown of the Fukushima DFaiichi plant in Japan three years ago. Skaggs said TVA is meeting the new regulatory standards adopted after that disaster and TVA expects to finish Watts Bar Unit 2 at a cost less than half what other utilities are budgeting for other new nuclear plants.

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