The Tennessee Valley Authority on Tuesday completed the placement of the 193 nuclear fuel rods that will soon power the first new American nuclear plant to be brought online in nearly two decades.
Crews at the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., put the final fuel assemblies in place just after 2 a.m. Tuesday. Within the next several days, TVA will secure the reactor vessel head on top of the fuel and reactor core to allow workers to begin the nuclear fission process that generates the thermal heat to produce steam and electricity.
TVA, which has been building Watts Bar off and on for 43 years, is completing the second reactor at the Rhea County power plant five years after work was resumed on the thenstalled Unit 2 reactor.
"The initial fuel load is a milestone and an important step toward starting the plant and generating electricity," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said Tuesday.
The first fuel assembly was loaded last Friday and TVA expects to begin power ascension tests of the new reactor by the end of the year.
Each of the two reactors at the Watts Bar plant is capable of generating 1,150 megawatts of electricity, or enough power to supply 650,000 homes.
Watts Bar Unit 1, which began operation in 1996, was the last U.S. nuclear reactor to be started. Four reactors are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, but those units are next-generation design reactors, known as Westinghouse AP1000 units.