Watts Bar Unit 2 Enters Commercial Status, U.S. First In 20 Years

The Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor, the first new nuclear plant in 20 years to achieve initial criticality in the United States, has taken the final step in its construction and start up phases, achieving commercial operation status this week, the Tennessee Valley Authority announced.

Watts Bar 2The achievement marks the successfully completion of an extensive series of power ascension tests after which -- to be named fully commercial -- the plant operated at full power for more than three weeks, TVA said.

TVA Chief Executive Officer and President Bill Johnson said the plant was on its way of achieving its mission of making live in the Valley better, “by providing reliable, low-cost energy, protecting our natural resources and working to attract business and growth – all priorities simultaneously supported by the completion of Watts Bar Unit 2.”

More than a tangible success for the TVA, the accomplishment is a symbolic one, marking a comeback, albeit a tentative one, in the United States for an industry that often appears back on its heels with plants closing due to unreliable profit margins threatened by political favoritism for renewable power sources and slack demand growth.

There are four other reactors under construction in the United States, two at the Plant Vogtle expansion project in Waynesboro, Ga., and two at the V.C. Summer expansion project near Jenkinsville, S.C.

Since the initial criticality was first achieved in late May 2016, the plant has provided customers with more than 500 million kilowatt/hours of carbon-free electricity, TVA said, noting the Watts Bar Unit 2 joins TVA fleet of six other nuclear reactors that provide one third of the generating capacity in a region that includes 4.5 million homes. The TVA's influence covers much of a seven-state region in the southeast.

The last commercial reactor to begin operations in the United States was the other reactor at Watts Bar, Unit 1, which began commercial operations in 1996. Construction on both Unit 1 and 2 was begun in 1972, but work was halted in 1985. Three years later, work was halted on the TVA's Bellefonte NPP, a two-reactor project further south that also faced a construction schedule riddled with fits and starts. The Unit 1 reactor at Watts Bar was finally up and running in 1996, while the TVA went the other way at Bellefone, deciding this year to sell the 1,400-acre site in Hollywood, Ala, with the two units unfinished.

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