Watts Bar Unit 2 operates under own power for first time
Licensed reactor operators at Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 2 project reached a major milestone at 2:16 a.m. EDT, Monday when the unit's reactor achieved its first sustained nuclear fission reaction.
Also known as achieving "initial criticality," TVA says Unit 2 is now generating heat under its own power and will soon be producing safe, carbon-free electricity as the nation's first new nuclear unit in the 21st century.
"This milestone is the result of the hard work by Watts Bar employees supported by the entire TVA nuclear team," said Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes. "While this achievement is important, safety remains our top priority and we will now move forward with fully integrating the seventh unit into the fleet with that focus in mind."
Like its sister, Unit 1, Watts Bar Unit 2 is designed to produce electricity by using controlled nuclear fission to generate heat, which is then used to produce steam to turn turbines and a single, large generator. More information about this process can be found on TVA's Watts Bar webpage.
The reactor is now operating in a stable condition at low power levels. During the coming weeks, power levels will be slowly increased as part of scheduled power ascension testing and the unit will begin producing electricity that will flow onto TVA's transmission system.
Plant systems and controls will be monitored and tested at various power levels up to 100 percent. These tests will be repeated multiple times to ensure the entire system operates safely as designed.
Once all tests have been completed successfully, the unit will provide a sustained 1,150 megawatts of safe, low-cost, reliable, carbon-free electricity to the Tennessee Valley. Combined with Watts Bar Unit 1, the plant will supply power to roughly 1.3 million homes in the TVA service area.
Back in 2014, Calvin Sneed did an in-depth study of what the work on Watts Bar Unit 2 cost taxpayers: