It’s Been Twenty Years Since a New Nuclear Reactor Went Online, That Changed Last Week

On June 3, 2016 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced that the Watts Bar nuclear Unit 2, located near Spring City in eastern Tennessee, was officially connected to the power grid and generating electricity.  Watts Bar Unit 2 is the first nuclear unit to come online in the United States since its sister unit, Watts Barr Unit 1, was connected in 1996.

Watts Bar Unit 2, itself, has a long history.  TVA began construction on the unit in 1973, and though it completed the major structures, the work was suspended in 1985.  Construction recommenced in 2007 and in October 2015 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a full power Facility Operating License for the unit.  As part of the licensing process, TVA was required to demonstrate that the unit complied with current regulations including the NRC’s orders implementing Fukushima actions—actions based on lessons learned from the March 2011 earthquake that damaged nuclear power reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility in Japan.

Watts Barr 2 will produce electricity by using nuclear fission to generate heat; the heat will be used to produce steam which will in turn operate a turbine.  When run at full power—which TVA expects to be doing by the end of the summer—Watts Barr 2 may supply up to 1,150  MW of electricity to the grid.  In the interim, TVA will be continuing to test the unit as it slowly ramps up power production.

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