The Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant

Grant Sivesind
December 20, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: The Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant, shown in Fig. 1, is a electricity generating nuclear plant in Tennessee close to Spring City. It produces the 9th most power of any Nuclear plant in the United States and supplies energy to around 1.2 million homes in Tennessee. [1] The plant consists of 2 units, Watts Bar 1 and Watts Bar 2 which respectively have power generating capacities of 1,167 and 1,165 megawatts. [2] The Watts Bar nuclear plant is run by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

What Is Special About Watts Bar?

The thing that sets the Watts Bar apart from other Nuclear power stations in the United States is that Unit 2 is the latest Nuclear Reactor to come online and is the first one in the last 20 years. [2] Construction of the entire plant began in 1973, but due to the project becoming over budget and going past the scheduled completing time, and also because of a newly projected decrease in energy use, the construction of the second Unit was halted in the 1980's. Construction subsequently began again in October of 2007 after the Tennessee Valley Authority authorized the completion of Unit two. [1] In 2012, legislative changes made in response to Fukushima caused a delay as the plans for Watts Bar had to be updated in order to comply, but despite this setback, the plan entered into commercial operation in October of 2016. [2]


While this plant creates a relatively cheap and green source of energy (compared to coal power) for the residents of the Tennessee valley, it also comes with a few risks. Near the completion of the project, there was a fire in the switchyard of the plant. The fire was quickly extinguished and did not effect any of the generator equipment, [1] but it did point out that Watts Bar is not infallible and a worse fire, or other event could be disastrous. As Misam Jaffar points out in his analysis of the risks of Nuclear plants, there are also risks associated with heat pollution, air pollution, and possible terrorist attacks targeted at the nuclear reactor. [3] Despite these risks, however, the Watts Bar plant is the most recent, and likely the most safe plant in the United States due to the increased restrictions on nuclear plants following Fukushima.

© Grant Sivesind. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Flesner, "Watts Bar Fire Means Costly Repair," Chattanooga Times Free Press, 1 Sep 16.

[2] D. Flesner, "Watts Bar Becomes America's First New Nuclear Reactor of the 21st Century," Chattanooga Times Free Press, 19 Oct 16.

[3] M. Jaffer, "Impact of Nuclear Power Plants," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2011.