NRC approves license extension to complete work on second reactor at Watts Bar

NRC approves license extension to complete work on second reactor at Watts Bar

November 22nd, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Local - Breaking News

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/Times Free Press.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today formally accepted TVA's bid to continue construction on its oft-delayed second reactor at the Watts Bar nuclear project near Spring City, Tenn., extending TVA's permit until Sept 30, 2016.

The extension gives TVA a small cushion to meet its targeted completion date on Watts Bar Unit 2 of December 2015, which is prudent given the scope of the project, said Jim Hopson, a spokesman for TVA.

"When we first decided to continue construction on Unit 2 back in 2007, we had originally targeted a completion date in 2012," he said. "There are risks, no doubt, in any type of large-scale construction project like this, but we believe we've got the organizational structure, the right managers, plus we've got a lot of oversight that will allow us to address any problems that may come up."

Much of the heavy lifting on Watts Bar's second unit is already done, he said, with most of the remaining work comprising "system completion," he said. That helped NRC give the project a clean bill of health as far as environmental issues, a ruling that was "not unexpected, but certainly a pleasure to see coming in."

The completion of Watts Bar will help TVA pursue its goal of reducing its reliance on coal-burning plants and replacing that with nuclear power. TVA President Bill Johnson last week outlined a vision to generate 40 percent of TVA's power using nuclear power, 20 percent with coal, 20 percent using natural gas with the rest a combination of hydroelectric and renewable energy. Currently, the agency produces closer to 30 percent of its power from nuclear sources, with coal taking the lead at 38 percent, natural gas in third place with 15 to 20 percent, with the rest coming from hydro and renewable sources.

According to the NRC's news release, TVA should request an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2014. The reactor will be a 1,100-megawatt, Westinghouse-designed pressurized water reactor, which is "essentially the same" as Watts Bar's existing reactor.

Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.