What’s Inside The First New US Nuclear Plant In Two Decades

What’s Inside The First New US Nuclear Plant In Two Decades

It’s been almost two decades since a new nuclear plant opened for business in the United States. But that’s about to change as construction wraps up on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 (WB2) plant.

Completion of the plant’s construction, following a long hiatus, confirms the importance of nuclear power in the overall energy supply in the US and beyond. To some, its opening later this year heralds the beginning of a much-anticipated nuclear renaissance in the US.

Nine-inch-thick Steel Walls

It’s been a long and winding road for WB2. The project started in 1972 and was suspended in 1988 when the growth in power demand began to decline for TVA. Its sister unit, Watts Bar Unit 1, went on to open in May 1996, and was the last nuclear plant to do so in the United States.

Work resumed in 2007 on WB2. TVA says total construction investment to complete construction of the plant is in the range of US$4 to $4.5 billion, with commercial operation anticipated for late 2015 or early 2016. When operational, WB2 will add more than 1,100 megawatts of generating capacity to the TVA system – enough to power 650,000 homes.

Engineers started drawing up the plans for these two Tennessee reactors in the 1960s, so critics have said that Watts Bar 2 isn’t so much the first nuclear power plant of the 21st century but instead the last one of the 20th century. But it has successfully passed a number of pre-operational tests of key systems and confirmed that all equipment and facilities ordered or built 40 years ago have been properly refurbished and updated. WB2 meets the latest safety standards, including those instituted after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

One example is the steel reactor vessel with nine-inch-thick walls that can withstand a system pressure of 2,250 pounds per square inch. It serves as an important barrier for any radioactive material produced in the reactor core during the operation of the plant.

In a nuclear power plant, rods of uranium fuel are submerged in a pool of water. Fission chain reactions in the nuclear fuel generate heat and, by circulating water through the reactor core, the power plant produces steam that turns a turbine to generate electricity. Water is continuously pumped through the reactor core to remove the heat and avoid overheating that could cause problems.

The WB2 plant uses a well-established pressurized water reactor design that forms the basis for approximately two-thirds of the 100 nuclear plants, which generate about 20% of the nation’s electricity. The design, construction, and operation of the plants rely on the principle of having multiple safety barriers, which is called defense in depth in the industry.

Prepared For The Worst

A key safety feature of the plants is that the fission rates – or the rate of uranium chain reactions that create heat – will slow down if the cooling water temperature gets too high. That will reduce the power output and avoid overheating.

The 2011 Fukushima accident taught a valuable lesson when massive tsunami waves damaged four nuclear plants. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission mandated new safety rules to lower the risk from this type of threat. Plants now have sheltered facilities where emergency equipment including power sources, pumps, hoses and communication devices are stored.

The Watts Bar site features 16-foot tall, 18-inch thick tornado-proof doors. The site is also served by one of two response centers at nearby Memphis, Tennessee, where five sets of portable emergency equipment are maintained.

The ice condenser containment building at Watts Bar 2 has come in for some criticism because it has a smaller volume than those at most other pressurized water reactors. It features beds of ice that could quench steam generated in major accidents and thus protect the reactor core and the containment building, the structure that encloses the reactor vessel and the core to prevent the escape of radiation in an emergency.

Eight other pressurized water plants in the US, including the Watts Bar Unit 1 and Sequoyah Unit 1, which is also in Tennessee, have similar ice condenser containments. In studies analyzing the risk associated with nuclear plants, the overall risk of operating the Sequoyah plant is estimated to be comparable to nuclear plants without ice water containment.

The Need For Nuclear Energy

The world needs affordable, clean energy and entrepreneurs are working on figuring out new ways to generate it. Natural gas could be an inexpensive source of energy in the near term, but fracking technique used to extract it may pose substantial geological concerns and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Furthermore, combustion of natural gas produces a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

Even Bill Gates has established a company to develop and eventually build a so-called breeder reactor. This new type of nuclear reactor could operate with recycled used nuclear fuel and uranium tailings left over from enrichment plants. Breeder technology would help solve the problems associated with disposal of used nuclear fuel and at the same time produce affordable clean energy for the foreseeable future.

As the WB2 plant in 2015 and four other plants with the AP1000 nuclear power plant design prepare to go online over the next few years, nuclear deserves to take a prominent role as a carbon-free source of energy in the US.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation
Read the original article.

About The Author

lee johnJohn Lee is a Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at University of Michigan. His research interests include: nuclear reactor theory, reactor core physics and design analysis, reactor kinetics, fuel cycle analysis, reactor safety analysis, power plant simulation and control.

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.