- Nuclear regulators are preparing to issue Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) an operating license for a new nuclear reactor. It would be the first time since 1996 the federal government has granted a license to new nuclear generation, Platts reports.
- The 1,150-MW Watts Bar-2 unit could get the green light by the end of the month, Platts reports as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission finishes up inspections of the plants. At least 560 items have been verified, but 20 have not been fully closed, the agency said. Even so, that won't affect the decision readying the reactor for operation.
- Construction on the new unit began more than four decades ago, but faced repeated delays as accidents soured the country on nuclear power and demand flattened.
Construction on Tennessee Valley Authority's new nuclear reactor was begun in 1972. So it's been a long road for what is expected to be the United States' first new nuclear reactor to be brought online since 1996.
But in the four decades since TVA broke ground, the United States saw energy demand flatten, and witnessed the major nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima souring the country's taste for nuclear generation. But Platts reports the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may just be a couple of weeks away from issuing the license, after determining the plant was "substantially complete" and could be operated safely.
In August, TVA informed regulators the plant was complete. The project completed four milestones aimed at safety, quality, and staying on budget and on schedule, according to the power agency. They included hydrostatic pressure testing, nuclear reactor vessel assembly, Open Vessel Testing verifying safety-related systems function, and installation and inspection of one of the first functional U.S. FLEX-equipped storage buildings.
FLEX addresses critical lessons learned from Fukushima with an additional layer of backup power and emergency equipment in multiple locations to help maintain cooling should normal systems and other backup systems fail.
TVA expects to begin commercial operation before the end of the year. The facility cost more than $4 billion to construct.
This announcement followed on the heels of a handful of utilities struggling to keep aging nuclear and coal fleets afloat. Earlier this week, New Orleans-based utility Entergy announced it will shutter its 680 MW Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass. by 2019 amid increasing opposition from environmental groups and tough market conditions.
Furthermore, the staff from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recommended the commission reject FirstEnergy's plant subsidy proposal to guarantee income for its aging and uneconomic coal and nuclear fleet.
Cheaper natural gas and renewable energy are emerging as competitors against the traditional coal and nuclear generation. The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan -- which calls for a nationwide cut of 32% greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030 below 2005 levels -- doesn't allow states to receive credits for existing nuclear generation reducing emissions rates, though the final rule does allow states to get credit for in-construction nuclear plants.