“This achievement signifies more than a stage in construction for TVA,” said Bill Johnson, TVA president and chief executive officer. “It demonstrates to the people of the Valley that we have taken every step possible to deliver low cost, carbon-free electricity safely and with the highest quality.”
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Johnson said bringing a nuclear plant online is a substantial responsibility.
“It is one of the most profound responsibilities you can have in this life, and operating a nuclear plant has the same responsibilities," said Johnson. "We understand that responsibility and we take it seriously.”
Issued Thursday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the operating license allows TVA to move forward with preparations for Unit 2’s initial fuel load, which requires several weeks of work while the NRC continues inspections and the reactor’s systems are readied for operation.
Watts Bar 2 is the first unit to comply with Fukushima-related safety requirements on mitigation strategies and spent fuel pool instrumentation.
“Completing Watts Bar Unit 2 and successfully licensing one of the nation’s largest new nuclear generation projects is (an) historic milestone for TVA and the nuclear industry,” said Joe Grimes, TVA chief nuclear officer. “With the delivery of this unit, we are further positioning nuclear power as a key player in TVA’s – and the nation’s – energy portfolio and instilling confidence in TVA and the nuclear industry.”
TVA maintained Unit 2 in an incomplete state since 1985, extending the unit's construction permit since then. In 2007, TVA began efforts to complete Unit 2 and updated its operating license application in March 2009. NRC staff completed the environmental review in May 2013 and continuously supplemented the safety evaluation report.
During Thursday's news conference, Mike Skaggs, senior vice president of Watts Bar construction and operation, called the project one of the hardest things he's ever done in his career.
"But it's also been the most rewarding when you take a step back and look at it," said Skaggs. "In 2011, we were approximately 45 percent complete. Today we are 99 percent complete."
"This is 20 years in the making and we welcome today's announcement for Watts Bar Unit 2," said members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Energy and Power Subcommittee and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee. "This nuclear plant will help fulfill the region's need for affordable, reliable and abundant electricity for decades to come."
Skaggs said the project included the replacement and refubishment of equipment so Unit 2 mirrors Unit 1.
"We essentially have a new plant in an old footprint," said Skaggs.
Watts Bar Unit 2 is on schedule for operation in early 2016. Unit 1, in operation since 1996, and Unit 2 will produce 2,300 MW of carbon-free energy, enough to power 1.3 million homes in the TVA service area.
The Nuclear Energy Institute congratulated TVA on the achievement.
"This is a hallmark day for the U.S. nuclear energy industry," said Marvin Fertel, NEI President and CEO. "Even more importantly, this is cause for celebration for the millions of people in the Tennessee Valley Authority's service territory who can count on Watts Bar 2 as another source of reliable, carbon-free electricity for decades to come."
Bechtel, Watts Bar 2 construction contractor, released a statement, noting that the workforce amassed 33 million work hours, or nearly five years, without a day lost to injury and a 98-percent quality control acceptance rate during the first inspection.
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