The Independent Assessment of Nuclear Developments in the World

Home > News > WNISR Essential News > Forty Years Later—US Watts Bar 2 Project Allegedly "On Time and Within (...)

Forty Years Later—US Watts Bar 2 Project Allegedly "On Time and Within Budget"

Tuesday 5 November 2013

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) stated on 29 October 2013 that completion of the Watts Bar reactor unit 2 is on schedule and within its budget with scheduled for operation from December 2015. Construction of the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) began in 1973, located in Rhea County, southeastern Tennessee approximately 50 miles northeast of Chattanooga.

In a year of negative developments for the U.S nuclear industry it is perhaps not surprising that the near completion of the Watts Bar unit 2 reactor has been presented as good news. However, to claim that the reactor completion is “on schedule and within budget”, as stated by the TVA , completely fails to reflect the deeply troubled history of the Watts Bar reactor since its construction began 40 years ago. As described in some detail in the WNISR 2012, construction delays and cost overruns plagued the reactor from the start. Construction was suspended in 1985 in part due to a decrease in electricity demand for TVA. In 2007, and based upon its projected increased energy demand, the TVA board approved a 5-year plan to complete Watts Bar 2.

However, by 2012 TVA admitted that “the project had not been successful in meeting its construction schedule... and that previous efforts at project recovery were not successful.” The completion cost also escalated from 2.5 billion in 2007 to between 4-4.5 billion.

As when construction was suspended in 1985, TVA is also facing a range of challenges to its future operations. Earlier this year, it lost its largest single customer, the Paducah uranium enrichment plant, and is confronted with the biggest drop in power demand in its 80-year history with a resultant need to rethink its future power plans. TVA’s 2011 integrated resource plan (IRP), which covered the next 20 years, including plans to expand nuclear power, is now out of date. The TVA President recently admitted that "it’s time for us to really hone in on cost management and efficiency". Consequently the TVA has recently launched a new IRP process.

In addition to future energy demand uncertainties and large cost overrun of Watts Bar 2, safety issues remain unresolved both for the existing Watts Bar 1 reactor and the yet to open unit 2. Not least both reactors are ice condenser design which makes them vulnerable to hydrogen build up and containment failure. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Near-Term Task Force on the Fukushima Daiichi March 2011 accident included requests for assessment of flood risk at U.S. nuclear power plants. In February 2013, the NRC censured TVA that they had been using outdated and inaccurate calculations in estimating the maximum potential flood threat should upriver dams be breached, the end result of which could be loss of cooling function and reactor meltdown.

What They Say…

“The Report sets forth in painstaking detail the actual experience and achievements of nuclear energy around the world.”

Peter A. Bradford

Former commissioner
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
(in his foreword to the 2013 report)
“A vital public service... Uniquely independent, thorough, and timely assessment."

Amory B. Lovins

Chairman, Rocky Mountain Institute
“This annual publication has over 20 years evolved into the most reliable, strikingly original, comprehensive and penetrating assessment of the global nuclear industry.”

Praful Bidwai

Financial Chronicle
Delhi, India
"Amid the hype and PR, the smoke and mirrors, of the 'nuclear renaissance', the Status Report offers a hard-edged reality check."

Walt Patterson

Associate Fellow Chatham House
London, UK
“Fantastic piece of work. Must reading for any observer of nuclear energy."

Henri Sokolski

Executive Director Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
Washington DC, USA
“Reliable research based on cold, hard facts, unlike the hype and amnesia of industry sources.”

Scott Ludlam

“Félicitations pour la dernière édition du WNISR. Formidable comme d'habitude!”

Fulcieri Maltini

International Consultant Former Director of the Nuclear Safety Account, EBRD
“Thought-provoking as usual.”

Will Dalrymple

Editor Nuclear Engineering International
"The authoritative report on the status of nuclear power plants worldwide is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report."


Bangkok, Thailand
“Such an illuminating report.”

Sam Geall

Deputy Editor China Dialogue
London, UK
"An astounding collection of facts and figures, a myth-busting international overview… An eye-opening piece of work!"

R. Andreas Krämer

Chairman Ecologic Institute
Berlin, Germany
“I really appreciate you letting us excerpt your report! It’s incredibly well researched and comprehensive, so thank you!”

Stuart Luman

Associate Editor Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists