US Watts Bar unit approaches start up

9 August 2016

The first new US nuclear reactor in 20 years completed a final round of testing on 3 August. Unit 2 at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Watts Bar NPP achieved 75% of its total output and may begin operations later in August. It will be the first new commercially operating nuclear unit in the US since 1996. TVA, a federal government-owned utility, started construction on Watts Bar unit 2 44 years ago, but construction was put on hold in 1985, after more than $1bn had been spent, because of a scandal involving contractors paying off corrupt TVA officials. The reactor was 80% complete. TVA revived the project in 2007, when nuclear power seemed poised to make a comeback.

Of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only four are in the US. The average American nuclear reactor is 35-years-old, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and approaching the end of its operating licence. Within the past two years, six states have shut down NPPs and many other reactors are facing premature retirement. Nuclear energy provided 20% of US electricity in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nuclear power struggles to compete against much more heavily subsidised solar and wind power or cheap natural gas.

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