- Watts Bar Unit 2 Passes Key Milestone on Path to Operating License
- Bellefonte’s uncertain future
- Dominion seeks third reactor at North Anna
TVA’s Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor, now nearing completion, has cleared a major regulatory milestone toward being the country’s first new nuclear generation of the 21st century. A key advisory group for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recommended moving forward with the process to grant an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2.
In a letter to the NRC Chairman, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards noted that “there is reasonable assurance that WBN 2 can operate as the second unit of the dual unit Watts Bar Nuclear Plant without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”
“This completes a critical regulatory step in the process to start up the nation’s first new nuclear unit in 20 years,” said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes.
As an independent body within the NRC, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards made the recommendation to proceed with the licensing process? Their recommendation is part of the information NRC commissioners will consider when making a final decision on issuing an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2.
Located near Spring City, Tenn., Watts Bar Unit 2 is approximately 95% complete and remains on target to begin commercial operations between September 2015 and June 2016 at a total cost of between $4.0 billion to $4.5 billion. When online, it will produce 1,150 megawatts of carbon-free electricity – enough to meet the needs of 650,000 homes.
TVA ordered work resumed on Watts Bar 2 in 2007 with an estimated price tag of $2.5 billion and a completion date of 2012.
Bellefonte’s uncertain future
The next reactor TVA plans to complete is one of the two Bellefonte Units. TVA’s board may authorize the utility to move forward once fuel is loaded at Watts Bar 2. In 2013 the utility slowed down work on the plant significantly reducing staff citing a lack of electricity demand as the reason.
However, In October, 2013, it was announced that former TVA Chairman Dennis Bottorff and financier Franklin L. Haney have drafted a proposal to finish the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant using private funds and federal tax credits. According to news media reports, TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said utility officials are still studying Haney’s financing offer and talking with Credit Suisse officials. A preliminary TVA estimate for finishing one of the units at Bellefonte came in at $8.1 billion. This cost could be offsets by $2 billion in tax credits if the reactor could be brought online by 2021 according to the proposal.
TVA has abandoned plans to build two Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 nuclear reactors at the Bellefonte site. First announced in 2005, the effort to develop the business case and license application was shut down in 2009 due to the ongoing recession and TVA’s mounting financial liabilities to clean up a coal ash waste spill in Tennessee. Another factor was TVA’s desire not to seek an increase in its congressionally mandated debt ceiling.
That action would have been necessary to proceed with construction of the twin units which at that time had “overnight costs” of about $2500/Kw or just under $3 billion each. At today’s global benchmarks of between $5000-$6500/Kw, the units would cost between $5.7 billion and $7.5 billion each. These numbers place the final estimated cost, with tax credits, of completing Bellefonte, at $6.1 billion, right in the middle of these cost ranges.
TVA is also working on an early site permit for a small modular reactor. The most likely location is Clinch River. No vendor has been named by TVA to supply an SMR.
Dominion seeks third reactor at North Anna
Dominion Virginia Power is moving ahead with its plans to build a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna site though it has not set a date to start construction. The renewed interest in the project follows the successful completion of GE-Hitachi’s safety design review for the firm’s ESBWR reactor in October 2014.
Richard Zuercher, a Dominion spokesman, told local news media the utility is still working on the business case for the project and its plan to meet all federal, state, and local regulatory requirements. He said demand for electricity is growing especially in its Northern Virginia service area near Washington, DC, which is home to many high technology firms. The new reactor would serve 368,000 customers.
License approval, according to Zuercher and the NRC calendar for the application, is expected in 2016. Once ground is broken, construction is expected to take about five years.
This is the second ESBWR to make progress towards an NRC license. Earlier this year DTE’s FERMI III, which also references the ESBWR, said its application had been referred to NRC commissioners for a vote.
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