Finishing Watts Bar Unit 2

(note: I have a blog post about the Google-trip all written and ready to go, as soon as the video is posted…in the meantime…)

In January of 2008, I had the pleasure of touring the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant with a student group from the University of Tennessee. Watts Bar is the newest reactor in the US, and was originally intended to have two operating units. Both were ordered in 1973. Both reactor containment buildings were built. Both cooling towers were built. A turbine hall big enough for two 1200-MWe turbogenerators were built. But only one of the two reactors was finished.

Ever since 1996, Watts Bar Unit 1 has been generating clean electricity for eastern Tennessee. On the day I visited we were able to go into the turbine hall and see WB1’s turbogenerator in action. It was a huge and remarkable machine. On one end was the high-pressure turbine. It wasn’t very big, but I remembered from thermodynamics that it was probably producing about 2/3 of all the shaft power from the turbines. Then there were the low-pressure turbines. They were huge, and produced the remaining 1/3 of the power. At the far end was the “moneymaker”, as the workers called it, the generator. On the cold January day that I visited it was cranking out nearly its maximum amount of power, over 1100 MW of electricity.

The generator was about the size of my garage and it was running a city!

That was amazing.

After the steam went through the turbines it had to be condensed back to water, and that happened in the big condensers in the basement of the building. The condensers were cooled by water that circulated through the cooling towers. As you can see in this picture, one of the cooling towers is exhausting the warm moist air that contains the ~2000 megawatts of waste heat from Watts Bar 1.

The other tower isn’t doing anything. It hasn’t ever done anything. Because Watts Bar Unit 2 was never completed. Construction on WB2 ended in 1988 when the reactor was about 80% complete. We saw WB2’s turbogenerator on the other side of the turbine hall from WB1’s turbogenerator. It looked…unfinished.

In October 2007 TVA announced that they would finish WB2 and turn it on. That would generate an additional 1200 MW of clean power for eastern Tennessee. It would allow TVA to shut down a nearby coal plant called Kingston. In October 2007 no one thought much about Kingston, but in December 2008 Kingston made world news as the site of the worst coal ash pond spill in history.

It’s too bad that WB2 wasn’t finished years ago. If it had been, perhaps Kingston would have been shut down before all that coal ash was spilled. As I mentioned on my blog post “The TVA That Could Have Been“, Kingston burns 14,000 tons of coal every day and spews CO2 and noxious gases into the atmosphere.

If WB2 had come online two years after WB1 did, and if Kingston had been shut down a year later, then for the last ten years Kingston wouldn’t have been burning coal and emitting CO2. That’s about 51 million tons of coal that wouldn’t have been burned.

Oh well, you might say, at least they’re finishing it now. But wait! A group of angry “environmentalist” groups (and I say that with scorn since they’re not protecting the environment) have filed a petition to intervene against TVA’s license request before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These groups contend another reactor could unduly heat up the Tennessee River and poise an undue risk to the public.

But wait, you might say, doesn’t WB2 use a cooling tower? That’s right, they do, and that means that the waste heat from WB2 doesn’t end up in the river but rather in the atmosphere. Not that heating the river is a big deal anyway (a square kilometer gets heated by the Sun at the same rate a nuclear plant would) but these “environmentalist” groups don’t even know how WB2 works!

Personally, I don’t think they even care how ignorant they are. They have a pathological case of “nuclear derangement syndrome” and that means that a reactor that is built, whose containment is built, whose site is secure, whose cooling tower is ready, who could shut down a coal plant and keep millions of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, shouldn’t be built for any reason.

There’s no reasoning with fools like this. But TVA–please keep building Watts Bar Unit 2. It’s going to be a great reactor.



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