US regulators issue first nuclear plant operating license since 1996

(credit: NRC)

Late last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its first new operating license in nearly two decades. It was issued to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has finally completed the Watts Bar 2 reactor over 40 years after work was started on the site. The plant may begin generating electricity before the year is out.

Construction on the site was put on hiatus in 1985, but efforts to complete it were restarted in 2007. After work had restarted, the Fukushima disaster led to significant revisions of the safety regulations in the US; Watts Bar 2 becomes the first plant to meet all these requirements. Its license is good for 40 years.

That should be enough time to make a return on the substantial costs involved in completing it. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the total cost for completion was $6 billion, which will raise the cost of TVA-generated electricity for its customers. Should regulations raise the cost of carbon-emitting energy sources over the expected 60- to 80-year lifetime of the plant, however, it could end up being a bargain.

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