Some 22 years after Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) shut down the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has authorised the restart of unit 1 – the last of the three units to gain permission to go back online.

The move is a result of extensive work and refurbishment of the plant following problems of poor performance and management. At the time of the shutdown in 1985, TVA agreed that it would carry out corrective actions and not restart any of the units without NRC approval, although all units retained their operating licences. Unit 2 restarted in 1991 and unit 3 in 1995.

Unit 1 passed its comprehensive operational readiness inspection recently and permission to restart was given to TVA on 15 May. The unit was started up on 21 May with the reactor reaching criticality at about half-past-midnight on 22 May.

Unit 1 will initially provide 1155MWe and, if the NRC approves, this will rise to 1280MWe after modifications.

Bechtel Power worked on the restart of units 2 and 3 at Browns Ferry in the early 1990s. In 2002, the company signed a unit 1 agreement with TVA and carried out $1.8 billion of work to aid the restart.

A licence renewal for all three units was approved by the NRC on 4 May 2006. The 20-year licence renewal allows TVA to operate the plant into the 2030s. Unit 1 first began commercial operation in 1974.

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