TVA's Skaggs updates Watts Bar 2 progress, final licensing timeline

Once completed, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 2 nuclear site will be the country's first to be built this century. Does Watts Bar 2 pave the way for an uptick in nuclear power generation in the United States? During today's OnPoint, Mike Skaggs, senior vice president for the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 1 and 2 nuclear sites, discusses the latest progress toward completion of the site and the challenges to safeguarding the site from natural disasters post-Fukushima.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Mike Skaggs, senior vice president for the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar nuclear site. Mike, thank you for joining me.

Mike Skaggs: Well, thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Mike, once completed this will be the country's first new nuclear unit this century. Bring us up to speed on the progress of the site and when you're anticipating it will be operational.

Mike Skaggs: OK. We're finishing up the construction work at the Watts Bar Unit 2, and we're in the final stage of construction, and we have completed open vessel testing. We've completed the cold hydrostatic testing on the unit. We've completed the hydrostatic testing on the secondary systems. And we just energized the Unit 2 transformers to get them in phase correctly. And we're into the final stages of the performance or completion of component tests that lead us up to being able to start the hot functional testing, which we've planned in a couple months from now. And then we're looking at late this summer for fuel load of the unit, and we're looking for late this calendar year for commercial operation of the unit.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're still waiting on a final operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When are you expecting that?

Mike Skaggs: We're expecting that right prior to our ability to be able to load fuel. So everything is staged. We're working well with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the issues are winding down. And so we'll commission -- expect to get that license right before we're ready to load fuel.

Monica Trauzzi: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has said your facility is not designed to appropriately handle earthquakes and flooding risks. What safeguards are in place? And can you ensure that the site is safe against earthquakes and flooding?

Mike Skaggs: Sure. There's new regulations associated with earthquakes and hydrology issues or in the case of flooding, and we're fully aware of those requirements. We've analyzed the site and the area for those requirements. We've taken additional measures in a couple of areas to increase the margin associated with the plant to seismic and flooding, and we find the plant to be safe.

Monica Trauzzi: So four years post-Fukushima, does the potential for natural disasters keep you awake at night?

Mike Skaggs: No, ma'am.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Watts Bar 1 had to shut down this past month. How prepared are you for Watts Bar 2 for a similar scenario, and what could that mean for customers if there does need to be a shutdown?

Mike Skaggs: Well, in the case of the recent shutdown we had an equipment issue, but we've -- in readiness for the Watts Bar 2 operation we're fully staffed. We have all the staff onsite to run two units. We've been through programs, processes, procedures -- everything that we need to have in place to be able to run and operate and maintain the second unit, and so we're highly prepared. We've done multiple different sets of assessments and looked at ourselves and our ability and capacity and capability to run the second unit. So I find ourselves and our plans to get us ready to run two units have been very thorough and I think we're fully ready.

Monica Trauzzi: Is it challenging to find enough qualified individuals prepared to work in nuclear operations? Has employment been a challenge?

Mike Skaggs: I wouldn't call it a challenge. You have to put enough effort in it to find the right people with the skill sets and the qualifications necessary to do the work. It takes some effort, but a challenge, no. But we've put the effort in; we have good people at the site. And like I said, we're a little overstaffed to where we think we need to be, and that's on purpose as we head into operating the second unit.

Monica Trauzzi: Watts Bar 2 currently would not receive credit under EPA's Clean Power Plan draft proposal. Do you anticipate the agency will make adjustments to how it handles nuclear in its final plan?

Mike Skaggs: I'm not sure on that one.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. TVA has long been a fossil-fuel-heavy utility. It's projected a switch to natural gas for baseload generation in the future. What role does pricing nuclear play in your company's future?

Mike Skaggs: Well, we look at the pricing -- we look at our portfolio overall, and we look at the pricing aspect of the overall portfolio. Our goal is to have close to up to 40 percent nuclear, and with the rest of the percentage available to our other assets, available ... So what we're trying to do is protect our generation asset to make sure that we are able to give our customers reliable, safe, cost-effective power.

Monica Trauzzi: But beyond this project there are no other plans to build new nuclear?

Mike Skaggs: We have no new plans to build nuclear. We do have plans for power up rates on three of our reactors, which would provide additional power.

Monica Trauzzi: If this project doesn't help revitalize and spur the nuclear industry in the United States, then is that a signal that the economics of nuclear don't work?

Mike Skaggs: Oh, I don't think the whole economics on new nuclear is based solely on Watts Bar 2. I think there's many factors that are in play here. You know, the factors of the viability of a small modular reactor -- you know, those are still in the process of being worked out. So I think it'd be too early to say it's all or nothing associated with the viability of nuclear power at Watts Bar 2.

Monica Trauzzi: So what do you think needs to happen in the industry to shift back to seeing a legitimate interest in nuclear?

Mike Skaggs: We need to -- so the people that run the plans, myself for example, we need to continue to demonstrate safe, reliable operation of the plants, and we've got to continue to endeavor to find options that are available to make nuclear power plans a good, reliable, cost-effective asset.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Mike, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. Appreciate your time.

Mike Skaggs: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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