The first new U.S. nuclear reactor in nearly 20 years is now hooked up to the nation's electrical grid.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced the start of nuclear fission at its Watts Bar Unit 2 late last month, and federal energy officials said this week that the unit connected to the grid on June 3. It is expected to begin commercial operations later this summer.
“It is rewarding to see TVA taking the lead on delivering the first new nuclear unit of the 21st century and providing safe, affordable and reliable electricity to those we serve," TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes said in a statement.
Although the plant is technically "new," construction on Watts Bar 2 began in 1973 before economic issues stalled the TVA's ambitious nuclear program in the mid-1980s. Construction resumed in 2007 and was plagued by delays and cost overruns before receiving federal approval last fall.
The reactor is the first to meet new safety regulations implemented after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan in 2011.
The first unit at Watts Bar, formerly the nation's newest reactor, came online in 1996 — 23 years after construction began. Four new reactors, however, are currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina and are expected to begin operations in 2019 and 2020.
Although nuclear energy remains controversial, proponents argue it should play a larger role in the nation's energy mix. The Obama administration, which set ambitious goals for curbing emissions from power plants, touts nuclear power as the nation's largest source of low-carbon energy.