Comparing TVA’s Watts Bar Reactors and Southern’s Vogtle Reactors

For the next several weeks, the Forum on Energy will be featuring content from the recent 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference.

800px-Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Generating_StationIn a panel on the state of nuclear power in the United States, the U.S.-Japan Roundtable heard from representatives of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Southern Company. The two companies are currently building three nuclear reactors: Watts Bar Two in Tennessee (TVA) and Vogtle Three and Four in Georgia (Southern).

The discussion emphasized the differences between the older style of construction and permitting of the pressurized water reactor at Watts Bar and the newer style construction and permitting of the AP1000 units at Vogtle. Watts Bar Two, which is being constructed on site, falls under the traditional iterative licensing process, while the AP1000 units at Vogtle utilize modular construction and are operating under the newly-created Combined Construction and Operating License process. Each of the companies expressed their belief that the construction processes will continue on schedule.

Southern began thinking about building a new nuclear facility 15 years ago when the company was very heavy into coal. It is trying to set up a portfolio and nuclear is one of the arrows in its quiver. That philosophy and a regulatory structure in the state of Georgia have both contributed to this process of building a nuclear reactor instead of natural gas or coal plants.

When completed, Vogtle will be operated as a four-unit site and will be the largest nuclear plant in the country. It first submitted its applications with the NRC in 2005, received limited work authorization in 2009 and foundational work began at that point. Near the end of 2011, the AP1000 received its license and in 2012 we received the first joint construction operation license granted by the NRC. The AP1000 is a modular design and many of the parts are delivered and assembled on site.

The construction faced and continues to face some hurdles. Fukushima took place during this seven-year period. But its effects on Vogtle are difficult to assess as the AP1000 already accounted for most of the NRCs requirements that resulted from the post-Fukushima safety assessment of the U.S. industry.

>>Watch a video on Vogtle construction timeline for the third quarter of 2014.

Vogtle, which has a combined operating license, has different regulations requirements than Watts Bar. These include 875 Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria (ITAAC) per unit. Fifteen are completed, but this is right on schedule. It’s an ongoing process.

A concern is that human resources in the nuclear industry are tight. With the opening of both Watts Bar and Vogtle, the available staff with the appropriate experience and qualifications will be tight. Says David McKinney, VP of nuclear construction at Southern company generation: “We have had issues surrounding nuclear outages at other plants in the south. They need staff to work the issues and scheduling has been tough.”

>>View McKinney’s presentation on Vogtle 3 and 4.