TVA Confident About Watts Bar 2 Construction

Issue 4 and Volume 5.

By Brian Wheeler, Editor

The Tennessee Valley Authority in April provided an update on the progress of construction at the Watts Bar 2 nuclear power plant near Spring City, Tenn. Expected to be completed by 2013 with a total cost of $2.49 billion, TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said the estimates on both cost and time were wrong.

“Based on the findings to date, we will be asking the TVA board of directors to approve the continued funding and the extended construction time for Unit 2 at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant,” said Kilgore. “We didn’t do a good enough job when we started in 2007. While our intentions were well founded, our execution and progress reviews were not.”

Aerial of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn.
(1) Aerial of Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn. All photos courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Kilgore said the initial detailed scoping, estimating and planning study (DSEP) done on the unit in 2007 and approved by the TVA board appeared “aggressive but doable” at that time. The DSEP approved by the board in 2007 projected a 60-month construction schedule and a cost of $2.49 billion.

TVA now expects the project to cost an additional $1.5 billion to $2 billion to complete, putting the total cost to complete Watts Bar 2 near $4 billion to $4.5 billion. TVA also said they will not complete the project by 2013, as expected and approved in the 2007 construction schedule, but should have the plant operational between September and December 2015.

Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2
(2) Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2 upper containment looking down on the top of the reactor vessel.

The “team has completed a rigorous assessment of the Unit 2 project,” said Mike Skaggs, TVA senior vice president of Nuclear Construction. “Our assumptions led us down an incomplete path. The work is complex and there are many lessons learned.”

Skaggs added that walkdowns to support the initial estimate were not completed.

“Management was misaligned, and planning was poor,” he said.

Construction began on TVA’s third nuclear plant started in 1973 and Unit 1 at Watts Bar entered commercial operations in 1996. TVA, in 1988, suspended construction activities on Unit 2 due to a reduction in the predicted power demand growth. In 2007, TVA approved completion of Unit 2 after finishing studies of energy needs, schedule, costs, environmental impacts, and financial risks.

Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2 turbine floor
(3) Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2 turbine floor – new moisture separator reheaters (silver) in the foreground and light blue turbines in the background.

The project will add 1,180 MW to the TVA power system. TVA expected to have about 2,300 contract workers on site at the height of construction. When complete, Watts Bar 2 will create 290 permanent jobs. Kilgore said a new leadership team is now in place to correct the problems and successfully complete Watts Bar 2.

“We have unfinished business,” he said. “Watts Bar Unit 2 remains a cost-effective solution for meeting the region’s base load power needs with clean energy at a competitive rate,” he said.

The TVA board of directors also in April approved continuing with construction of Watts Bar 2 in accordance with the revised estimates.

operator in the new Watts Bar Unit 2 control room
(4) An operator in the new Watts Bar Unit 2 control room reviews information from the operating Unit 1.

At that time, Kilgore told the board that “TVA expects Watts Bar Unit 2 to be among the best operating and most economical nuclear generating facilities of the 21st century. The safe and quality completion of Watts Bar Unit 2 will help us deliver a balanced mix of energy sources and increase our supply of emission-free electricity.”

TVA asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May to extend the construction permit for Watts Bar 2 to support the revised estimate of the time needed to complete the project. The unit’s current construction permit expires in March 2013. TVA said the only change it requested from the NRC was an extension of the completion date.

TVA has said it has high confidence in both the new completion schedule and cost estimates for Watts Bar 2.

(5) Built to withstand tornados and rising floodwaters, this fortified building houses four backup power emergency diesel generators at Watts Bar.

Currently, Watts Bar Unit 1 has a capacity of 1,170 MW.