(Wyoming Business Report, October 22) – A new nuclear power plant in Tennessee got a 40-year operating license Thursday, the first time a nuclear plant has gotten the Nuclear Regulatory Commission OK since 1996 when the new plant’s sister unit went online. The new plant will have an impact on uranium companies operating in Wyoming, where most uranium is drawn from the ground.
The Watts Bar Unit 2 plant is located near Spring City, Tennessee, and has twin cooling towers that measure 506 feet tall and are 405 feet in diameter at the base. TVA, the largest publicly owned U.S. power company, started the process for the plant in 1973, and in 2012 estimated costs to complete the plant would be up to $4.5 billion.
However, regulators pushed for more safety upgrades after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 that tainted nuclear energy’s reputation and sent commodity prices spiraling to lows Wyoming producers still continue to deal with. With the improvements, the company now estimates the cost of the new plant at between $6 and $6.1 billion, according to Bloomberg. That’s more than 35 percent higher than its expected high cost from 2012.
The plant is now set to go online in 2016, and will be a boon to Wyoming producers, who extracted about 2.9 million pounds of uranium in 2014. That’s more than 59 percent of the nearly 4.9 million pounds produced nationwide last year.
Adding a new stateside nuclear plant will impact Wyoming producers by securing more demand for the fuel, said Paul Goranson, executive vice president for in-situ recovery at Energy Fuels.
“Watts Bar 2 combined with the other four reactors under construction will have a net increase in demand relative to the announced shut downs of older, smaller reactors in the U.S.,” he said. “That assures that Wyoming producers will have customers well into the future. TVA does contract with Wyoming producers and that means that there is a good chance Wyoming uranium will be fueling Watts Bar 2.”
However, he said spot prices are unlikely to change because of the fresh demand since TVA contracts most of its supply and analysts have already factored the new plant into market demand.