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First New U.S. Nuclear Reactor In Decades Goes Live

In 1973, the Tennessee Valley Authority began building the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, which was designed for two reactors with the capability to power 1.3 million homes.

Now, 43 years and $11.5 billion later, Watts Bar is finally complete, with its second reactor becoming the first commercial nuclear reactor switched on in 20 years. The previous one was Watts Bar 1, the new reactor's twin, which was completed in 1996, according to CNN.

The reasons the project took so long -- with delays, hiatuses and cost overruns -- span the gamut from backlash against the nuclear industry to fears about safety after the disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986.

Work on the Watts Bar 2 reactor was begun and halted several times over the past four decades, until the George W. Bush administration incentivized nuclear power by offering federal loan guarantees to energy companies in the nuclear business, CNN reported.

Construction on Watts Bar 2 resumed in 2007 and was scheduled for completion in 2012. Despite approval from nuclear regulators and secured funding, the project was delayed by another four years.

"It's 30 years later and billions of dollars over budget, but if it is going to operate we hope it is done safely and properly by TVA," Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in May, when operators at Watts Bar 2 started switching on some of the reactor's systems.

The new reactor has resulted in about 200 new jobs in Spring City, Tennessee, the newspaper said, and the second reactor alone will power more than 650,000 homes.

TVA officials sought to reassure people living in the area, with CEO Bill Johnson saying in late September that  the reactor "will be an excellent neighbor as we have been for many years," adding that he wants Tennessee residents to know "how seriously we take our obligation here," according to WRCB.

On Oct. 19, he struck similar tones as he spoke to reporters with the reactor behind him.

"If you're in the nuclear business, the sight behind me is a lovely sight," Johnson said. "It's a sight we've been waiting for some years to see, which is steam coming out of both cooling towers, meaning that both units are running. You can hear that turbine rolling. It's a great day."

Sources: CNN, Chattanooga Times Free Press, WRCB / Photo credit: Tennessee Valley Authority/Flickr

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