TVA to start new reactor at Watts Bar this month

Watts bar.
photo TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes

The Tennessee Valley Authority expects to soon startup what will be the first new nuclear power reactor added to America's power grid in two decades.

TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes said today that workers at the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant expect to begin power production for the first time within the next month or so at the newest unit at Watts Bar. Grimes said he expects the unit to achieve initial criticality - the point at which a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction occurs within the reactor core - later this month. After a couple of weeks of tests, the unit should begin low power production and should achieve 100 percent production and be declared a commercial generating plant by this summer.

"There's nothing more important to TVA than delivering a nuclear unit to the industry and the TVA customer that meets all of the regulatory requirements to ensure that we deliver electricity safely and reliably but also efficiently," Grimes said. "It's an exciting time."

The schedule for activiating Watts Bar Unit 2 is about a month later than what TVA had forecast last year when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted TVA an operating license for the new reactor. The final price tag for the new unit, disregarding earlier investments already written off, is $4.7 billion, which is less than half of what other new units are costing to build.

Grimes said TVA encountered some equipment problems with some pump and valves, but he said the startup testing process has been similar to that of the 60 other commercial nuclear power plants operating across the United States.

"We are conducting the final comprehensive tests to ensure the unit is capable of delivering electricity safely and reliably to the people of the Valley," TVA President Bill Johnson said. in a statement today. "We are not rushing this. As with all their work at Watts Bar Unit 2, the team is working carefully to power the unit the right way, and achieve commercial operation in a safe and quality manner."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct an open house today from 5-7 o.m. at the Comfort Inn in Decatur, Tenn., to discuss the progress of Watts Bar. Grimes said another meeting is expected later this month to address remaining issues raised by the NRC earlier this year about the way TVA was handling employee concerns at Watts Bar.