NRC approval of TVA’s new nuclear plant could be forthcoming

Watts bar

Within the next couple of weeks, an office within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could give the Tennessee Valley Authority the green light to begin commercial operations at the Watts Bar 2 nuclear plant in Spring City, Tennessee.

The NRC’s Region II office in Atlanta has issued an Oct.15 memorandum to its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation in the agency’s Rockville, Md., headquarters informing that office that inspectors have completed the inspections needed to support issuance of an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2.

The recent milestone clears the way for NRR Director Bill Dean to sign an operating license if the NRC staff is satisfied the TVA has met all other requirements for the nuclear power plant’s license. That decision is expected within the next couple of weeks.

Region II, with the concurrence of an NRC group set up to look specifically at Watts Bar 2 inspections, issued the memorandum after extensive reviews and inspections determining that there is reasonable assurance for safe and secure operation.

TVA tested components and systems to demonstrate that design requirements were met, and the staff has performed inspections of testing to ensure requirements were satisfied and test deficiencies were properly resolved, according to NRC.

“There were 560 items identified for WBN Unit 2,” according to the NRC memorandum. “The NRC staff verified that the items needed for this readiness determination have been sufficiently addressed.”

In 2009 NRC set up the Watts Bar 2 “reactivation assessment group,” according to the NRC memo. In August of this year, TVA submitted a letter saying that Watts Bar 2 construction was “substantially complete” and asked NRC to issue an operating license for the facility.

Conclusions from NRC’s Operational Readiness Assessment Team inspection also concluded that TVA has adequately demonstrated the readiness of the nuclear facility.

Watts Bar 2 was going through the old NRC nuclear plant licensing process, where NRC considered first the construction and then later the operation of a proposed nuclear plant. The current setup, which was used for the Vogtle units being built by Southern Co. and the V.C. Summer units being built by SCANA, uses the “combined” license.

If TVA is issued the license, Watts Bar 2 will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to start operating since 1996, when Watts Bar 1 came online.

The NRC staff will not issue an operating license to Watts Bar Unit 2 until it is satisfied that TVA has met all the regulatory requirements for the license. If a license is issued, the Region II staff will continue to closely monitor activities including completion of any remaining construction and testing inspections and implementation of the inspection program that covers start-up testing activities. This includes fuel loading, initial criticality, low power physics testing and power ascension tests.

Ideally, TVA hopes to load fuel and commence commercial operation of the roughly 1,100 MW pressurized water reactor by the end of the year.

In September, members of NRC officially voted to reject a petition filed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to reopen the Watts Bar 2 license case.

After getting off to a rocky start toward development of the never-finished Watts Bar 2 facility, TVA has been relatively free of big problems since it did a major shakeup of the Watts Bar 2 completion project in 2012. TVA had announced in the spring of 2012 that completed the never-finished Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility could cost up to $4.5 billion, rather than the $2.49 billion that was originally forecast back in 2007.

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