The first new nuclear power plant in nearly 20 years has been approved for construction, as the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor has received permission to operate. The new reactor will add 1,150 megawatts of power to the Watts Bar facility of Tennessee.
This nuclear power facility is also home to the country’s last reactor, the Watts Bar, which was activated in 1996. The facility is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
Together, these two nuclear reactors will produce enough electricity to power about 1.3 million homes in the Tennessee Valley area.
TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes said, “This is very important for TVA from a perspective of our generation portfolio, and it’s very important for the nuclear industry as well to add another unit to the U.S. nuclear fleet.”
The construction of the Watts Bar nuclear facility started in 1973, and it continued until 1985. At that time, safety concerns postponed its opening until 1996. There were originally plans for two reactors, but the TVA delayed this plan until more recent years.
The new reactor takes designs from the 20th century rather than current designs for more recent nuclear reactors. TVA officials say that there is less risk in using a design that has already proven to be successful.
Other proposed nuclear reactors in South Carolina and Georgia would reportedly employ more modern designs that experts believe are more cost-effective while still maintaining proper safety.
It’s notable that most nuclear facilities in the United States exist in the south. This is because states in the region typically have regulated energy markets, which means that producing energy at low cost is not a top priority. While they are extremely expensive upfront, nuclear facilities are incredibly efficient when it comes to producing electricity over many decades.
Some people are concerned about the new nuclear reactor based on the events of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that took place in Japan in 2011. However, experts have largely dismissed these concerns, saying that Fukushima had design flaws in its placement of backup generators and fuel. Facilities in the United States do not have such flaws, and more safety measures have been put into place.
Designers of the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor put in extra effort to show that they took safety into consideration. The new reactor takes measures to prevent disasters from occurring in the event of extremely hazardous weather, such as earthquakes, tornadoes and floods.
One good thing about nuclear energy is that its costs are very consistent. Coal and natural gas power plants are very dependent upon commodities that can have major fluctuations in price.
Meanwhile, solar and wind power plants can fail to generate enough electricity in less than desirable weather conditions. Much like these types of facilities, nuclear power plants are not harmful to the environment. So while nuclear power is very clean, it is also very consistent in terms of production and cost.
However, nuclear power does have some downsides. It is incredibly costly upfront, as constructing a nuclear power facility is very expensive. Also, the potential for a nuclear disaster scares many people away, as the effects of such an event are devastating.
Still, the Watts Bar Unit 2 project will move forward, as people in Tennessee are awaiting the day that their electricity will come from the new reactor.