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Newest US Nuclear Plant, Started in 1973, Opens

FILE - The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant cooling towers Unit 1, left, and Unit 2 rise near Spring City, Tenn., April 29, 2015. Construction of Unit 2 was started, abandoned, then restarted, becoming a cautionary tale for the power industry.

Twenty years late and billions of dollars over budget, the newest U.S. nuclear reactor officially began sending electricity to customers this week.

One of the largest government-owned electric power providers, the Tennessee Valley Authority, started building two reactors at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in 1973. Though plagued with design flaws, price increases and stiff resistance from environmentalists, the first reactor, Watts Bar 1, went into operation in 1996.

Construction of the second reactor, Watts Bar 2, stopped in the 1980s, then resumed in 2007, with a projected power-up date in 2012. But after the tsunami-triggered meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima reactor in 2011, construction stalled again because of required design modifications.

Finally, 43 years after the beginning of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant project, the work is over. Watts Bar 2 came on line October 19.

The pressurized-water reactors will provide carbon-free power for at least four decades. Testing since May has shown that Watts Bar 2 can generate 500 megawatt-hours of electrical power.

Each of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant’s two reactors can supply enough power for about 1.3 million households.