1st new nuclear reactor comes online in Tennessee in 2 decades

FILE PHOTO: Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tennessee © Chris Baltimore
The Watts Bar in southeast Tennessee is the first new US nuclear reactor to come online in two decades. The new reactor is designed to add 1,150 megawatts of electricity.

“Watts Bar Unit 2 like its sister Unit 1, is designed to produce electricity by using controlled nuclear fission to generate heat, which is then used to produce steam to turn turbines and a single, large generator,” according to its licensed reactor operator, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

The Unit 2 reactor achieved its first sustained nuclear fission reaction in May before going online June 3, according to the US Department of Energy.

Building on Unit 2 began in 1973 but was halted in 1985 after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission identified weaknesses in the TVA’s program. Not until 2007 was construction started again. Completed in 2015, the total costs of construction were $7.4 billion.

According to TVA, once all tests are completed, the unit will provide a sustained 1,150 megawatts of “safe, low-cost, reliable, carbon-free electricity to the Tennessee Valley.” Combing with Unit 1, which started operating in 1996, the reactors will supply power to roughly 1.3 million homes in southeast Tennessee.

Four other reactors are currently under construction and are expected to join the nuclear industry within the next four years. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant Units 3 and 4 in Georgia and Virgil Summer Nuclear Generating Station Units 2 and 3 in South Carolina are scheduled to become operational between 2019 and 2020.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) said the southeast US is the epicenter of a revival in nuclear energy, and it could become the epicenter for nuclear waste as well.