Nuclear Plant Opens

Watts Bar location is first opening in 20 years; brings U.S. fleet back to 100

With the official opening of the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in eastern Tennessee on Wednesday, the U.S. saw its first power plant opening in 20 years. The plant, which is located 60 miles southwest of Knoxville, will provide power to 650,000 homes in the seven-state region that comprises the Tennessee Valley Authority’s service footprint.

The new reactor also catapults the U.S. nuclear power plant fleet over the century mark for the first time since 2014. There are now exactly 100 operational power plants in the country. A Vermont nuclear plant operated by Entergy was the last to close two years ago.

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The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Tennessee becomes the first to open in the U.S. in 20 years.

“This is a great day for TVA and for the people of the Tennessee Valley,” said TVA President Bill Johnson at a ceremony marking the reactor’s start-up.

Nuclear power is a controversial subject in relation to the current physical and political climate. In a bizarre full-circle connection, one of the reasons for picking Wednesday to officially open Watts Bar was due to record high temperatures in the region. Elsewhere in the country—debates have risen from issues of economy, safety, and governmental regulation. In upstate New York, a group of energy companies and trade associations have filed a lawsuit against the state for its subsidizing of several struggling upstate nuclear plants. In Illinois, the Exelon-operated LaSalle Generating station just received a 20 year extension.

The Watts Bar reactor in Tennessee has been a 40+ year process. Construction on the reactor began in 1973 but was put on hold in 1985. Officials restarted work on the project in 2007, and it was finally completed last year at a cost of $4.7 billion. It is the first reactor to meet stronger standards approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

Four other nuclear reactors are under construction in the United States, and the federal Energy Information Administration expects them to go online within the next four years.

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