When I was appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Board of Directors in 2010, the fate of TVA’s partially finished second reactor at Watts Bar in Tennessee was uncertain. The goal of reliable and affordable electricity (along with environmental stewardship and economic development) dictated TVA’s decision to complete, and late last year, the Watts Bar 2 reactor began commercial operation. Today, 40 percent of TVA’s electricity is generated by its nuclear fleet, its rates remain low, and its CO2 emissions are half what they were in 2005.
Watts Bar 2 is the first nuclear reactor completed in the U.S. since 1996. In the Northeast and Midwest, conditions in wholesale competitive markets have been responsible for the early retirement of several U.S. nuclear reactors. In contrast, China completed five new reactors in 2016, and it has 20 more reactors under construction. The U.S. needs a viable domestic nuclear industry to retain its critical role in nuclear nonproliferation and security.