Public Affairs Officer
The nuclear power industry notched a significant milestone last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 began commercial operations. It was the nation’s first new generating unit to come on line in 20 years.
Ironically, the last unit to come on line before Watts Bar Unit 2 was its sister unit, Watts Bar Unit 1, which began commercial power production in 1996.
For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it was just another day at the office – the resident inspector office at the plant near Spring City, Tenn., northeast of Chattanooga. Several months before, the NRC had begun and then completed a gradual transition from construction inspection to operational inspection.
The Watts Bar units have a unique history. Both trace their lineage to 1973. Both units had lengthy construction hiatus periods, with Unit 2’s obviously lasting quite a bit longer.
Resumption of construction at Watts Bar hit a high gear in 2008 and during the next eight years, the NRC’s Region II-based construction inspection staff, supplemented by inspectors from headquarters in Rockville, Md., logged more than 127,000 hours making sure Unit 2 was built according to its design specifications. More than 350 NRC staff members were involved in the construction inspection and project management effort. The NRC also expended considerable inspection activity during the unit’s lengthy pre-operational testing phase.
Now, however, Watts Bar is a twin-unit operating facility. Three NRC resident inspectors currently act as the agency’s eyes and ears at the Watts Bar site as Unit 2 transitions to the agency’s baseline inspection program for operating units. It will take about a year before that process is completed.
Even though Watts Bar was designed in the 1970s, it was licensed to today’s standards, including all the updated safety enhancements required by the NRC, including post-Fukushima upgrades and cybersecurity requirements.
With the addition of Watts Bar Unit 2, TVA now has seven nuclear units operating in Alabama and Tennessee.