TVA is Increasing its Nuclear Generation

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


The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a corporation owned by the U.S. government, provides electricity for 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states at prices below the national average. Facing challenging economic conditions, tougher new environmental standards, the need to modernize its generating fleet and changing customer needs, TVA’s renewed vision is to be one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy through, among other projects, nuclear energy production and a lower reliance on fossil fuel. TVA is completing Unit 2 at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in east Tennessee, which will add more than 1,100 megawatts of power to TVA’s generating portfolio.

Former NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant (Courtesy TVA)

Former NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant (Courtesy TVA)

Watts Bar

TVA’s third nuclear power plant, Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, is located on 1,700 acres on the northern end of Chickamauga Reservoir, in east Tennessee. Watts Bar currently has one operating reactor and one under construction.

Typically, fuel costs of nuclear are far less than all other types of power (excluding hydro), but construction of Watts Bar 2 is behind schedule and over budget. After investigating the construction effort, TVA identified four causes of the problems: leadership, estimate, execution and oversight. The company then analyzed other nuclear construction project, including Watts Bar 1, and developed an action plan for each of the principal causes. Another delay resulted from the efforts to meet new safety standards after the triple meltdown of nuclear reactors in Japan in 2011. As the next plant to come online, Watts Bar 2 is the first to incorporate the new NRC requirements that emerged from Fukushima.

Based on its experience of budget and schedule overruns, TVA has set up independent checks to verify the contractors’ reports. TVA set up a group that will independently go out and verify that the reporting they are getting from the contractors is correct. There is also another group that comes in every three to four months to independently assess whether TVA is performing against its original plan. Every quarter, TVA present its progress to the board.

Watts Bar 2 is nearing completion. The goal is to make unit two “like new” even though construction began in the 1970s using the technology available at the time. Construction was initially halted in the late 1980s due to concerns over nuclear energy demand. The project was resurrected in 2007 and construction restarted in 2012. Everything has been refurbished or replaced throughout the process and testing is ongoing. TVA will petition the NRC for a fuel load license by the middle of 2015. Watts Bar is fully staffed for two unit operation and is on track to be the country’s first newly operational nuclear plant.


Unlike Vogtle, Watts Bar operates under the earlier licensing model without the combined operating license. New developments such as Fukushima and cybersecurity have complicated the process, which is nevertheless working well. The key has been maintaining open lines of communication between TVA and the NRC. It’s not perfect, but it’s been an improvement on the Watts Bar 1. 

>>View a presentation on Watts Bar from Mike Skaggs, SVP, Watts Bar Operations & Construction: