TVA moves toward 2012 startup of Watts Bar II

TVA moves toward 2012 startup of Watts Bar II

July 20th, 2009 in News

Watts Bar Unit 2

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

* History: Construction permit granted in 1973; work was suspended in 1988 and resumed in October 2007.

* Investment: TVA spent $1.7 billion on the unit before work halted; completion of the reactor is estimated to cost another $2.5 billion.

* Power output: 1,180 megawatts, or enough power to supply more than 250,000 homes.

* Construction work force: 1,849 today, rising to 2,400 next year.

* Schedule: Completion planned by 2012, but environmental groups don't want the NRC to grant operating license*

* What's next: NRC administrative panel will review safety objections to license application.

KNOXVILLE -- The sluggish economy is cutting electricity use in the Tennessee Valley by nearly 7 percent this year, but TVA isn't slowing its plans to finish America's first new nuclear reactor in more than a decade.

TVA Senior Vice President Ashok Bhatnagar said the $2.5 billion, five-year plan to finish a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant is on schedule and within budget. Nearly 1,850 TVA and contract employees are now working at the plant and at TVA's headquarters here to finish the Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar by 2012.

"Power demand may fluctuate year to year, but we know we need this power just to help reduce what we already are having to buy from others on the grid," Mr. Bhatnagar told a conference here for journalists on nuclear power.

But last week, five anti-nuclear groups served notice they will ask federal regulators not to license another reactor at Watts Bar. The groups filed a petition to intervene against TVA's license request before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The groups contend another reactor could unduly heat up the Tennessee River and poise an undue risk to the public.

"The community is really worried about the Tennessee River and the quality of our water resources and TVA hasn't done anything to reassure us that they know what they're doing," said Ann Harris, executive director of We the People Inc. and member of the Sierra Club who lives near the existing reactor. "TVA's recent coal ash spills and now building more nuclear reactors all along the river -- this insanity has got to stop."

Ms. Harris and other environmentalists also objected to the license for the first Watts Bar unit in the early 1990s. But in 1995, the NRC granted an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 1 -- the only new reactor added to America's nuclear fleet in the past 25 years.

Other environmental groups that joined the petition to ask the NRC not to license Watts Bar Unit 2 include the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Tennessee Environmental Council, and We the People, Inc.

Edwin Lyman, senior staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the risk to too great to license Watts Bar, in part, because of the vulnerability of its ice containment design. Although used in nine other reactors including two at Sequoyah and the other Watts Bar reactor by TVA in Tennessee, Mr. Lyman said the risk from a hydrogen explosion within the reactor containment building is much greater than at other plants.

"There could be thousands of deaths from a major accident at Watts Bar II," he said. Mr. Lyman is expected to soon testify before an NRC judicial panel, known as the Atomic Safety and Licensing Panel, which will try to decide if the Watts Bar reactor should be licensed.

Mr. Bhatnagar said TVA is spending $230 million on additional equipment as part of its current construction project and he said the work originally done in the 1970s and 1980s is structural sound and well documented. TVA estimates the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor every year will avoid the emission of about 60 million metric tons of greenhouse emissions linked with global warming.

The second reactor at Watts Bar is the first commercial reactor in the country to seek a license since 1995 and could be the last reactor of its generation to be built. By next summer through the end of 2011, more than 2,500 workers will be employed on the project.

TVA began construction of Watts Bar in 1973, but work was suspended in 1988 when TVA's growth in power sales declined. After mothballing the unit for 19 years, TVA's board decided in 2007 to finish the reactor because it is projected to provide cheaper, no carbon-emitting power compared with the existing coal plants or purchased power it may help replace.