Watts Bar Nuclear Plant ready to start in 2015

photo Watts Bar Nuclear Plant

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The Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Power Plant has been under construction for four decades and still needs another year or two to resolve lingering equipment, flooding and documentation questions.

But federal regulators have concluded there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the 1,200-megawatt unit from getting an operating license. TVA's top nuclear building director said he expects the reactor to generate power by 2015.

In a new supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found no environmental concerns that would prevent it from issuing an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2. NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the agency anticipates completing an update of its final safety evaluation report by May 2014.

TVA still must relocate some key safety systems into a new, higher-elevation and more secure building to address flooding concerns. The potential flooding problem was uncovered when TVA re-evaluated potential river flooding in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear meltdown at Japan's Fukushimi plant, which was flooded by an earthquake-induced tsunami.

At the original reactor at Watts Bar, the NRC in April issued a "yellow" finding -- the second highest safety concern in NRC's four-color rating --because of TVA's failure to adequately calculate the flood risks to Watts Bar in its initial plant design.

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Hannah said the Atomic Licensing and Safety Board also must sign off on safety concerns raised during its review of the Unit 2 reactor.

But after four decades of starts and stops in its construction, TVA Senior Vice President Mike Skaggs said the plant is on time and on budget with its current forecast to be generating power by 2015.

"Watts Bar is still performing well in safety, quality, cost and schedule and we're meeting our targets," Skaggs said.

Two years ago, TVA was forced to again delay its plans to start Watts Bar Unit 2 and the utility raised the completion cost by up to another $1.5 billion. TVA has already invested nearly $10 billion in the twin-reactor Watts Bar site.

Those costs pushed TVA this week to announce it was delaying completion of its Bellefonte plant to help TVA save money next year.

But Skaggs acknowledged that the $4.9 billion completion cost estimate made when the TVA board approved Bellefonte in 2011 has turned out to be too low.

"The work we have done on the cost estimate (at Bellefonte) so far does indicate that it is going up," Skaggs said.

A final cost estimate for completing Bellefonte is expected by the end of the year.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com