A new nuclear reactor went online in Tennessee recently, making history as the first commercial reactor in America to go online in the 21st century. Watts Bar Unit 2 is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, and cost $4.7 billion. The unit can power 650,000 homes.

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There hasn’t been a new nuclear reactor brought online in two decades. TVA says Watts Bar Unit 2 was finished “the right way – with safety and quality” taken into deep consideration every step along the way. The company says the unit underwent “an extensive series of power ascension tests” as it began to operate. This week they announced the new reactor is officially operational after it functioned properly and generated power for three weeks. TVA CEO Bill Johnson said the energy generated by Watts Bar Unit 2 will be reliable, low-cost, and will protect the area’s natural resources.

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The company emphasizes the power generated by Watts Bar 2 is clean energycarbon emissions. TVA Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes said in a statement, “Nuclear power remains the only source of carbon-free energy that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TVA believes that Watts Bar Unit 2, and other nuclear units like it across the Valley and the nation, represents a vital investment in our clean energy future.”

Watts Bar Unit 2 already has a long history; initial construction started back in the early 1970’s. TVA ordered 14 reactors in the late 1960’s, but the construction project hit a few bumps along the way. They halted the project for a while in 1986. Watts Bar Unit 1 finally came online in 1996, and is licensed generate power through 2035. Watts Bar Unit 2 ended up costing more money, and after Fukushima TVA had to comply with additional safety regulations. Both units can each generate 1,150 megawatts of electricity; together they can power 1.3 million homes.

Via Forbes

Images via Tennessee Valley Authority